The introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species represents one of the most complex and challenging resource management issues of the 21st century. While appearing simplistic, global economic linkages complicate the issue. Commercial activities unintentionally introduce aquatic invasives via ships’ ballast water, as aquaculture escapees and from pet and garden imports; and recreational users unknowingly spread them to other waters. If these harmful species become established, they can wreak environmental havoc, degrade aquatic resources and make waters unusable for recreation and commercial activities. They can also impact human health, and economists estimate costs at over $100 billion annually, which is more than earthquakes, floods and fires combined.
Additionally, different values regarding native versus nonnative species surround the issue and legal gaps and our aquatic focus further complicates things. While having the necessary technical expertise, resource management agencies have limited authorities to address the issue and, as an underwater issue, impacts are often not realized until damage has occurred. Thus, they are out of site, out of mind. And unlike endangered species, people cannot relate to zebra mussels or hydrilla; they are not cute and fuzzy with big, round eyes. Also, informed citizens become discouraged; they believe the issue is too complex for their actions to matter.
Another level of complexity involves the governmental response. Typically, outreach with this issue has been passive and agency-specific and has been communicated using technical terms, jargon and acronyms. Fact sheets, brochures and press releases may fulfill agency information obligations; but research shows this approach creates limited behavioral change and no unity. We had to undue this cultural detachment, which has contributed to an unaware public that cannot relate to the issue of aquatic invasive species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works collaboratively to conserve fish and wildlife for all Americans. Given our mission, our legal authorities, our outreach limitations and the need to coordinate an engaging national approach to make the aquatic invasive species issue relevant to targeted members of the public, we worked through the national Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and others to develop HabitattitudeTM, a multi-faceted social marketing campaign which targets aquarium hobbyists, water gardeners and backyard pond owners to raise their aquatic invasive species awareness, and to promote environmentally responsible consumer behaviors when confronted with the issue of having to dispose of unwanted ornamental aquatic plants and fish. In concert with these objectives, we also sought to simultaneously unify multiple public and private conservation and environmental interests to speak with one voice about the aquatic invasive species issue by providing them with a strategic communications vehicle to use and leverage their outreach capabilities; and engage businesses and communities to promote local actions that prevent aquatic invasive species from entering their waters while still supporting their recreational use.
By embracing our leadership role via our staffing and co-chair responsibilities of the national ANS Task Force, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with PIJAC and others created a unifying brand and a full complement of cooperative marketing materials that simplifies the issue, promotes ownership and action. The Service works collaboratively with this national partnership and public awareness initative by maintaining and updating a dynamic campaign website, providing interested partner organizations with the cooperative marketing materials, which enable them to incorporate the turnkey elements of the campaign into their organizational outreach, take credit for the campaign prevention message and website without assuming any costs, and leading efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign.