(Photo: U.S. Geological Survey)
The Gulf of Mexico’s diverse ecosystem has been invaded by an alien threat: the Asia tiger prawn.
The giant prawn, which usually grows up to one foot in length and weighs nearly one pound, poses a formidable threat to the area’s ecosystem.
A highly aggressive creature, the prawn’s ravenous appetite could deplete the population of brown and white shrimp. The prawn also has a proclivity for disease, and is known to carry up to 16 viruses at one time.
"It has the potential to be real ugly," said Matagorda Bay ecosystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Leslie Hartman, according to the San Antonio Express News. "But we just do not know."
According to Fox News, the prawn feeds on the food of its smaller counterpart, the smaller shrimp, as well as the smaller shrimp itself, young oysters, and young crabs.
The prawn, a native to the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean, is suspected to have been released into the Gulf habitat in 1988, when researchers in South Carolina accidentally released 2,000 shrimp from their Bluffton facility.
Although the prawns have been sporadically spotted in the Gulf’s ecosystem since 1988, their numbers skyrocketed early this year. Fishermen reportedly found the prawns in the Mississippi Sound in late July, as well as in Corpus Christi, Texas and Sabine Lake at the Louisiana-Texas border.
Scientists are unsure, however, how the shrimp will affect the ecosystem, which proves diverse due to the Gulf’s tropical climate. Fishing is a primary economic drive in the Gulf, and jeopardizing the marine habitat could prove detrimental to both the environment and the economy.
Environmentalists and researchers have been highly protective of the Gulf of Mexico in the past years, especially after Hurricane Katrina reaped significant harm to the ecosystem’s balance. Surface oil and massive drainage resulted in the Gulf’s species consuming toxins, pesticides, hydrocarbons, metals, and pathogens.