Emerging Technology

IARPA wants help fending off invasive aquatic species

Shutterstock ID: 1059024755 By Maciej Mienciuk 

The federal government is searching for technology to detect shellfish, seaweed or other aquatic organisms coming to U.S. ports via ballast on foreign vessels or stuck to hulls of ships.

Although federal agencies such as Customs and Border Protection and the Agriculture Department have agents and facilities to detect potentially harmful insects, plants and animals on vessels coming through seaports in on-board cargo, it's hard to see the underwater portion of those ships where some potentially nasty foreign intruders can also reside.

Invasive aquatic life that has stowed away in ship ballast has already taken a toll on the U.S. economy. Fish, shellfish and plants have crowded out native fish and plant, and they have clogged up public and industry water infrastructure. Estimates cited by the Fish and Wildlife Service said invasive species cost the U.S. more than $120 billion a year.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency said in an April 23 request for information that more needs to be done for early detection of aquatic invasive species.

IARPA may not only be concerned with finding mussels from Asia or Europe on ship hulls, however. Along with the double barreled dangers of spiking global commerce and a warming climate that can make life easier for those threats, the agency said "emerging biotechnological technologies" could also be an issue moving ahead.

The agency wants to talk with industry about how to identify a broad range plants and animals that might be tiny, literally in an ocean, as well as how to take samples and extract data and interpret that data.

Along with detection details, IARPA also wants to talk about rapid screening technologies that could be used to look at ballast water and hulls to find potential threatening organisms without slowing down international shipping at ports or at marinas.

Responses are due June 8.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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