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 the public, we developed “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!”, a multi-faceted social marketing campaign which targets aquatic recreational users to raise aquatic invasive species awareness, builds issue ownership and prompts them to clean their equipment every time they leave the water. 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 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.
Examples of Key PartnersThe national Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the International Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, the New Zealand Dept. of Conservation, Patagonia and 170+ other organizations representing recreational fishing clubs, business, membership organizations, conservation organizations, environmental interests, trade associations, lake associations, city, county, state, regional and federal agencies, universities, and statewide, regional and national coordinating bodies.
Results and Accomplishments
With our efforts, we are breaking new ground. Uniting diverse interests around a cohesive prevention message lets us focus on producing behavior change that stops the spread of aquatic invasives. Other achievements include:
Execution of Program Goals – With planning, we established our direction. Through short-term goals, we built the campaign. Currently, we are implementing and evaluating our long-range goals collaborating with funding from the International Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies that enables us step down and evaluate the campaign in four pilot states. We should have some initial results in the Spring of 2006. Formally assessing our impacts cannot be understated; this rarely happens with conservation and environmental outreach.
Innovative Partnerships – Even though our agency is national, we have outreach limitations. Through the campaign, we have prevailed by attracting unprecedented partners. Currently, over 170+ diverse collaborators are helping to spread the prevention message. The campaign has also been embraced by the country of New Zealand. Through the leadership of the New Zealand Department of Conservation, collaborators have shown an increase in awareness from a baseline level of 68% to a post wave measurement of 85%.
Funding Leveraged – We were challenged with limited financial resources; our initial budget was $75 thousand. With this, we created the campaign and have attracted diverse partners, which has produced approximately $2.2 million in support.
Web Site Usage – The email news service attracts people to our site. After each email, web site traffic increases exponentially. Overall, we generate ~ 3K hits/day or 2.2GB hits /month; this shows the value of our Internet marketing.
Media’s Use of “Hitchhikers” – After initiating the campaign, newspapers have increasingly used “hitchhikers” to describe invasive species. Though it is anecdotal, the prevalence of this description appears to be correlated with our campaign.
Transferability – Last year, the pet and aquarium industry approached us about developing a similar prevention campaign. This campaign is just underway and because of the industry's involvement, we anticipate our achievements to be much greater than “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!”