Scientists Survey Mississippi Coastal Waters

Dozens of scientists are trolling Mississippi coastal waters in search of aliens. But it's not what you might imagine.

This "alien hunt" is a scientific survey of non-native marine life.

Metal electrodes extend from the front of "shock boats" surveying the inland waters of Ft. Bayou. A jolt of electricity surges into the water. Shock waves temporarily stun the fish, which float to the surface to the waiting nets.

David Yeager is with the National Estuary Program and helped organize this week's marine life survey.

"It's a good opportunity to take a base line inventory in our area. Understand what non natives are actually here at this time. It'll give us a leg up in trying to research control methods for them," he explained.

Collecting scrapings from pier pilings is another part of the project. Smaller species can also become a problem.

"They're looking at mussels. Barnacles. Things like that. A lot of the non natives tend to be in the small, in the shellfish category," he explained.

Certain invasive species could do more damage than simply interrupting the eco system. Left unchecked, they could do real economic damage, hurting commercial fisheries for example.

A certain South American crab could rival the native blue crabs of Mississippi.

"And it would of course compete with space. And although it's a commercially important crab in Central and South America, it's smaller than our blue crab. So economically, it's a less desirable species," said fisheries biologist, Dr. Harriet Perry.

Marine science must always deal with the forces of Mother Nature. On this day, high salinity hinders the shock boat crew.

"When the salt water is as high as it is right now, it's spreading out our field so much right now, that we just cannot have much luck with the fish," said fisheries biologist, David Robinson.

The biologists have several more chances to "get lucky". The coastal survey continues through Friday.

Dr. Perry says one of the most familiar invasive species involves a troublesome insect. The Formosan termite has caused millions of dollars in damage since its unwanted arrival in the United States.