Mon, Apr 19, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Palau intends to wipe out species of foreign fish


The Pacific nation of Palau is exterminating thousands of the world's most widely farmed fish to protect its richly varied local species.

The tilapia, a primarily freshwater fish native to the Middle East and Nile region of Africa, is believed to be confined to just four inland ponds in Palau, an archipelago 850km east of the Philippines.

While it has all the right characteristics for farming, its ability to reproduce quickly and eat anything means it would out-compete native fish if it escaped into Palau's rich environment.

"Tilapia have the potential to wreak havoc for a long time," said Tarita Holm, an eradication team leader. "Tilapia are worse than an oil spill, because we can clean that up."

Tilapia have caused major problems around the world, most notably in Africa's Lake Victoria. Holm said other Pacific islands have also tried unsuccessfully to get rid of the fish, with Nauru battling it since 1978.

"The greatest threat overall to biodiversity in the Pacific is invasive species," Holm said. "If we are able to [eradicate tilapia], we would be the first in the Pacific to have this invader and get rid of it."

In Palau's favor, tilapia are believed to be contained to four isolated ponds in Koror, the country's urban center, said Jennifer Boeder, the Environmental Quality Protection Board laboratory supervisor.

Koror is mostly raised limestone with very few naturally occurring freshwater bodies. Two of the ponds are former oil containers, another is a former dry dock and the last is part of the Koror quarry.

Eradication teams have already killed 29,000 fish in two of the ponds with a chemical called rotenone, Boeder said. Teams will apply two doses of rotenone to each pond.

In Palau, no one knows exactly how long tilapia have been around. One point of entry is in shipments of live milkfish from Bali for foreign fishing vessels to use as bait, Boeder said.

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