- CONSTANTA, Romania (AP) -- The intruder arrived sometime in 1982.
- It rode from the Atlantic in the ballast
water of a cargo ship and was flushed into the Black Sea, experts believe.
- Then it began to eat and multiply at
a frightening rate -- a fist-sized wrecking ball.
- By 1990, the total mass in the Black
Sea of all the jellyfish-like creatures, known as Mnemiopsis leidyi, was
estimated at 1 billion tons -- equal to the total wet weight of all the
fish caught in the world that year.
- The tale of mnemiopsis -- pronounced
ne-me-op-sis -- reflects the devastation that a single alien species can
cause in an almost closed ecosystem like the Black Sea.
- Free from its predators in the western
Atlantic, the animal devoured fish larvae, eggs and the plankton needed
by small fish. Anchovies and the Azov Sea kilka, two commercially important
fish, were among the hardest hit.
- Mnemiopsis, a hermaphrodite that is able
to reproduce independently, has declined a bit in the Black Sea. Scientists
are not entirely sure why.
- ``What is certain, though, is that mnemiopsis
altered the Black Sea as perhaps no other alien species ever had anywhere,''
said Richard Harbison, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
- Harbison's proposal: Maybe another voracious
alien could come to the rescue.
- Harbison has been studying the possible
introduction of the butterfish to attack the Black Sea mnemiopsis. The
fish, which averages about 5 1/4 ounces and lives off the coast of North
America, can eat its weight in jellyfish every hour.
- But he said ``many more experiments''
are needed to see if the fish can reproduce in the Black Sea.
- There is also the biological risk.
- ``The intentional introduction of yet
another exotic species into the Black Sea poses serious ethical questions,''
Harbison told marine researchers during a recent tour of the sea. ``We
must face the possibility that something could go terribly wrong.''