Invasive Species

How's your invasive species knowledge? In addition to the well-known lionfish, several other invasive species have moved in to national marine sanctuaries in recent years. Orange cup corals heavily colonize artificial surfaces in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and have also migrated onto natural reef surfaces in Flower Garden Banks. Zebra and quagga mussels are a problem in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where they damage the ecosystem and degrade historic shipwrecks. Learn more about invasive species -- and how climate change may be affecting invasions -- in our video. ‪#‎EarthIsBlue‬‬‬


Many of the world’s ecosystems have been invaded by alien, or non-native, species. When a non-native species causes problems in an ecosystem, it is known as an invasive species.

The classic case of an invasive species is the lionfish, which has invaded Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean waters, including many of our national marine sanctuaries, after being introduced by humans. Because lionfish have a voracious appetite and no natural predators, they are negatively impacting reef biodiversity and health in the areas that they have invaded.

Zebra and quagga mussels have established populations in the Great Lakes, including Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. These filtering bivalves compete with native mussel species, alter food webs and degrade the integrity of many lake shipwrecks. They also clog pipes due to their large clusters.

The orange cup coral is an invasive species that has established itself throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters. In places like Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the orange cup coral displaces native corals and sponges on the reefs.

Climate change will have many impacts on ecosystems, including a potential increase of invasive species. As ocean conditions continue to change, many species may shift their ranges, invading already established habitats.