My research project aimed to assess the presence of non-indigenous invertebrate species in BGTW, in particular those being introduced via hull fouling on recreational vessels. Species introduced outside of their native range can become invasive and cause economic, environmental and health issues. The impact of such invasions has led to them being considered as one of the main threats to the marine environment and its diversity. One of the main motivating factors for the project was the lack of data on non-indigenous species in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW). The study site, Mid Harbour Small Boat Marina (MHSBM) was chosen for the baseline study. Acquiring baseline data can allow for effective monitoring of the benthic ecosystem, pin-pointing at risk areas and species of interest. The approach to the data collection combined multiple aspects, physical samples were taken from the floating pontoons at the marina to allow for laboratory identification, video and imagery was obtained to highlight the necessity for different methodologies, a level of fouling ranking was given to the vessels present on the day of sampling to gain a further understanding of the complexity of the habitat found in the marina and finally, a questionnaire was distributed to boat owners to gain a valuable insight into travel patterns as well as perceptions and knowledge.
The project not only revealed the presence of non-native species including the shrimp, Caprella scaura and the spaghetti bryozoan, Amathia verticillata but also other environmental issues such as marine pollution due to the presence of plastic in the marina and the use of toxic coatings for antifouling. To communicate the results and mitigate further introductions and the efficient co-management of issues, a prototype of an infographic was produced, which can be positioned at MHSBM and other marinas in Gibraltar to raise awareness within the local boating community and allow for easy implementation of cleaning and monitoring measures. In recent years, researchers have increasingly found that the inclusion of local populations can aid in raising awareness and the facilitation of monitoring measures. Marine management of invasive species is now a priority for international and regional governing bodies. Of particular importance to the Department of Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change and Heritage (DESCCH), is descriptor number 2 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) concerning marine non-indigenous species and the requirement to maintain levels of non-indigenous species introduced by anthropogenic activities at levels which do not alter the ecosystems. As it stands the Good Environmental Status (GES) of this descriptor is not met in BGTW. The incorporation of benthic surveys and the implementation of detection and monitoring measures to understand the complexity of the issue and work towards a healthier marine ecosystem.