Invasive lionfish swims over a Florida coral reef with other reef fish.
Lionfish An unwanted invader in Florida's coral reefs. © Jeff Yonover

Stories in Florida

Stopping the Spread of Invasive Species

The threat posed by invasive species is second only to habitat destruction through development.

What Are the Invasive Species in Florida?

Feral pigs churn up natural environments like a plow. Spectacular-looking lionfish along the coast voraciously devour juvenille reef fish. Old World climbing fern fronds, up to 125-feet long, smother everything beneath them. Invasive, non-native species such as these cause serious damage when introduced to Florida’s natural lands. Indeed, the threat they pose is second only to the direct destruction of habitats through development. 

Because Florida’s climate is so hospitable, invasive species cause more of a crisis here than anywhere else in the continental United States. The fact that Florida is the world leader in the reptile trade, and serves as point of entry for almost three-fourths of all plants imported into the U.S., compounds the problem. 

All of Florida’s native habitats—marine, freshwater and terrestrial—are threatened by invasive species. The cost of managing Florida’s invasive plants alone is estimated at $100 million each year; the cost of animal management could easily exceed this.

TNC is taking steps to help keep nature in balance and protect human communities.

TNC’s Strategy Is Straightforward:

  1. Prevent future invasions of non-native species. 
  2. Quickly detect and respond to an invasion when it occurs.
  3. Protect native habitats by minimizing the damage caused by invasive species that are challenging or impossible to eradicate.

TNC Action Steps

  • Policy. TNC staff serves on state and federal advisory committees, and informs policy-makers with the latest and best scientific advice. National legislation that would affect the importation of non-native wildlife, especially reptiles such as south Florida’s highly-invasive Burmese python, is a hot topic today.
  • Science. Certain non-native plants can wreak havoc on agricultural systems as well as natural habitats. Along with the University of Florida (UF), TNC successfully advanced the adoption of a screening tool that predicts which plant species – including those being proposed as biofuels—might become invasive. UF now requires its extension agents to reference this tool before recommending plants. This tool also influences state policy, through the inclusion of UF on a state committee responsible for listing Florida’s worst weeds.
  • Best Practices. When Burmese pythons were spotted swimming from the Everglades toward the Florida Keys, TNC created Python Patrol. This early-detection, rapid-response task force prevents the spread of these non-native constrictor snakes to the Keys. Python Patrol trains community workers such as meter readers to identify the snakes and call in sightings; wildlife professionals then capture the snakes, which snack on endangered species and can grow longer than 20 feet. Python Patrol is considered a model rapid response task force.
  • Land Management. Because TNC owns and manages property, we understand the complexities and difficulties that public conservation lands face. TNC preserve managers strive to minimize the threat of invasive non-native species by:
    • Creating operating procedures to guide actions such as the appropriate use of herbicides,
    • Holding annual practitioner’s trainings,
    • Drafting standards for decontamination, and 
    • Preventing the unintentional movement of invasive species.
  • Partnerships. TNC joins state and federal agencies and a variety of private and non-traditional groups in an on-the-ground battle against invasive species.
    • Many regional Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) have been established to share expertise and resources. TNC is actively engaged in eight of these local partnerships. TNC also co-chairs the Florida Invasive Species Partnership, a group of representatives from agencies and organizations, that advises and helps implement the work of the CISMAs.
    • Central Florida Lygodium Strategy (CFLS) is a model collaboration of public and private partners, created and led by TNC to address the northern spread of Old World climbing fern. This fast-growing plant smothers habitats and is considered the greatest invasive threat to Florida’s ecosystems. CFLS uses effective teamwork to coordinate a variety of on-the-ground controls, from the Gulf coast to the Atlantic Ocean, covering 14 central Florida counties.
  • Exotic pets. Releasing these animals in woods and waters can wreak havoc on Florida's ecosystem. Several exotic pet amnesty days are scheduled around the state by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), where owners can, without cost, surrender their pets with no questions asked.

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The Role of CISMAs

The CISMAs in Florida fall under a statewide partnership called the Florida Invasive Species Partnership (FISP) along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This oversight committee offers help and guidelines to all CISMA partners. FISP also developed an online list of financial and technical assistance resources for land owners and managers. Many state and federal agencies and non-Governmental organizations are represented on FISP on a cooperative basis.

In addition to working closely with the Florida Invasive Partnership, TNC works closely on our own lands and on conservation easements with the network of seventeen CISMAs in Florida. These are voluntary partnerships working on a regional basis to work more effectively and efficiently together.

Together in partnership with other agencies we are working to preventing new invasions before they occur whenever possible, quickly detect and rapidly respond to new invaders, and control and manage already-established invaders at priority sites. in Florida.