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International Waters: UK Bans Five Aquatic Plants

Posted: April 16, 2013, 7:15 p.m. EST

By John Dawes

The United Kingdom has taken steps to ban the import and sale of five species of non-native aquatic plants: floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides), Australian swamp stone-crop (Crassula helmsii), floating water primrose (Ludwigia peploides), water fern (Azolla filliculoides) and parrot’s feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum). The measure, which take effect next April, is designed to help protect vulnerable habitats and their resident native flora and fauna.

All five species are known to possess invasive qualities that, if left unchecked, can cause considerable environmental and economic damage. For example, they can form dense mats on the water surface, depriving submerged plants of the light they need to survive and propagate. The species also deplete the dissolved oxygen on which aquatic animals depend and, consequently, cause population declines.

Water lettuce
Water lettuce continues to be sold, but it will still be an offense to dump it in the wild. By John Dawes
Further, these plants can clog streams, rivers, ponds and lakes to impede water flow, increase the risk of flooding and affect access to waterways, all of which are very expensive to tackle.

The five banned species are not the only ones to be listed on Schedule 9 of the U.K.’s Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. Other aquarium and pond plants on this schedule include the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), Carolina-waterweed or fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana), water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), two other species of water primrose (Ludwigia grandifloris and L. uruguayensis), giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta), curly pondweed (Lagarosiphon major) and all the waterweeds belonging to the genus Elodea.

However, the five first-mentioned species are the only ones that will be banned. It remains an offense to dump any of the other species in the wild, however, and infractions can carry fines of more than $7,000 (£5,000) and six months’ imprisonment.

To its credit, the U.K.’s trade organization, Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA), has been playing its part in controlling the spread of invasive aquatic plants for many years. As the organization’s chief executive, Keith Davenport, pointed out, OATA has been advising retailers not to import the five named species "for at least a decade.”

OATA also successfully argued to keep water hyacinth, curly pondweed and water lettuce out of the ban’s scope; including them would have cost the U.K. aquatic trade more than $4.5 million (£3 million) per year.

"We all need to play our part in shouting the message loud and clear so that customers don’t [dispose] unwanted plants—and pets—into the wild,” Davenport said.

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