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New web scanning technology helps protect the Great Lakes from invasive species

Nancy Loewenstein, Auburn University
According to Michigan's prohibited and restricted species website, autumn olive can shade out desirable native plants and fixes nitrogen in the soil, which can degrade native plant communities that thrive on low-nutrient soils. It's one of many invasive species that include water plants, insects, fish, and other animals that are harmful to the Great Lakes or Michigan's natural habitats.

Great Lakes officials are using tech to scan the web for businesses selling invasive species. The Great Lakes Commission is testing a web-crawler that scans for websites selling invasive species that could harm the Great Lakes.

Some of the species are restricted in parts of the Great Lakes.

“What’s legal in Texas may not be legal in Michigan,” said Erika Jensen, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Commission.

Once the Great Lakes Detector of Invasive Aquatics in Trade — or GLDIATR — finds harmful species for sale on the web, a letter is sent to the merchant, asking the business not to ship that plant or animal to people living in a Great Lakes state.

“Many times they maybe aren’t aware that they’re selling something that poses a risk to the Great Lakes region,” Jensen said, adding that most agree to restrict sales of the invasive species to places in the Great Lakes region.

The only option before this was to have staff do manual Google searches for specific invasive species for sale on the web.

“Using this sort of web crawling technology, we can simultaneously search for multiple species in a much shorter period of time,” Jensen said.

In a 30 day trial of the GLDIATR software, it scanned 300,000 webpages and found 200 websites with invasive species for sale.

More than 185 non-native aquatic species are already established in the Great Lakes. More are threatening to enter through many means, including as a package left at your doorstep.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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