Invasive Species
Olympic Coast

people examining a tidepool
Scientific surveys of intertidal habitats have uncovered several non-native species in sanctuary waters. Credit: Claire Fackler, ONMS, NOAA

Why is it a concern?

Although relatively few non-indigenous species have been reported in the sanctuary, intertidal surveys in 2001 and 2002 identified several including nine invertebrate species (two polychaetes, one amphipod, one bryozoan, four bivalves and one ascidian) and one algal species.  Also, a 2005 study using settlement plates found four non-indigenous species (one crustacean and three ascidians) with larvae in waters of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Ports and marinas tend to have higher numbers of invasive species due to transport by vessels.  There are no major ports adjacent to sanctuary waters, and the few marinas that exist are relatively small, which may slow the number and severity of species introductions.  However, shipping traffic through the sanctuary provides a vector for non-indigenous species via transport on hulls and discharge of ballast water.  To minimize this risk, Washington state has strengthened regulations covering ballast water exchange and discharge in state waters within three miles of shore.  Ships traveling from outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic  Zone must exchange ballast water no closer than 200 nautical miles (374 kilometers) offshore, while ships considered U.S. coastal traffic, including Canadian waters, must exchange ballast water no closer than 50 nautical miles (93 kilometers) offshore.  

Observations of increased amounts of the invasive brown algae Sargassum muticum, the documented range expansion of invasive ascidians (tunicates or sea squirts), and identification of live individuals of the invasive green crab in areas both south and north of the sanctuary all suggest that negative impacts from non-indigenous species are likely to increase in the future. This risk may be enhanced through altered conditions anticipated with climate change.  The March 2011 tsunami in Japan mobilized a large amount of drifting marine debris, some of which arrived in sanctuary waters beginning in 2012.  In December 2012 a large dock originating from Misawa, Japan, grounded at a remote location near Mosquito Creek adjacent to the sanctuary.  Non-indigenous species were identified on this and a companion dock that grounded near Newport, Oregon earlier in 2012. Non-indigenous species were removed from the dock before decommissioning and removing the dock but monitoring is needed to determine if they colonized adjoining area.  The recent focus on Japan tsunami marine debris is a reminder that marine debris can act as a vector for introductions of non-indigenous species.


Overview of Research

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is actively seeking research partners to conduct work connected to Invasive Species as a sentinel issue.

Project Name PI and contacts Links

Green crab monitoring

Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Rapid assessment of invasive species

Sanctuary and numerous partners

Removal of Japanese dock grounded on Washington shore

NOAA ORR, Olympic National Park, OCNMS


Science Needs and Questions

The best available science is used by sanctuary scientists and managers working to address priority resource conservation and management issues. As priorities change and new issues emerge, each sanctuary develops new science needs and questions and works with partners to address them.

  • Have the abundance, distribution and diversity of introduced species changed since surveys in 2001-2002, and how might these patterns be affected by global climate change?
  • What are the pathways for introducing invasive species into the sanctuary? 
  • What are the dominant dispersal and recruitment mechanisms of non-indigenous species found in coastal waters and shores?
  • Have any aquatic invasive or non-indigenous species become established in the intertidal and shallow subtidal area within the vicinity of the grounding of the Misawa dock near Mosquito Creek?

Education and Outreach Material

Species profiles can be found at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Aquatic Species web site and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Invasive Species web site


deRivera, C.E., G.M. Ruiz, J. Crooks, K. Wasson, S. Lonhart, P. Fofonoff, B. Steves, S. Rumrill, M.S. Brancato, S. Pegau, D. Bulthuis, R.K. Preisler, C.G. Schoch, C.E. Bowlby, A. DeVogelaere, M. Crawford, S.R. Gittings, A.H. Hines, L. Takata, K. Larson, T. Huber, A.M. Leyman, E. Collinetti, T. Pascot, S. Shull, M. Anderson and S. Powell. 2005. Broad-scale non-indigenous species monitoring along the west coast in national marine sanctuaries and national estuarine research reserves. Report to National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. Smithsonian Institute, National Estuarine Research Reserve System, National Marine Sanctuary Program, Washington, D.C. 125 pp.

Brancato, M.S., K. Brenkman, H. Berry, J. Chapman, J. Goddard, L. Harris, K. A. Miller, C. Mills, B. Bingham, B. Bookheim, A. Fukuyama, B. Miner, B. Pernet, P. Scott, D. Secord, and M. Wilson.  2005.  A Rapid Assessment Survey for Non-Indigenous Species in the Intertidal and Nearshore Area of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.  Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. 16 pp.