14 December 2021
Southeast Asia’s Most (Un)Wanted: Invasive Species and Threats to Agriculture and Aquaculture
Photo Credit: Ashraful Haque Akash on Unsplash
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SDG target 15.8 focuses on introducing preventative measures to reduce the impact caused by invasive alien species in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

We present two case studies demonstrating why SDG 15.8 matters, and what can be done to achieve environmental conservation.

By Abegail Anderson, Gillian Gavino, and Julianna Gil, Master’s degree candidates at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs

Conventionally, we associate Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 14 and 15 with large scale conservation projects and management strategies. We pay less thought to individual organisms that are causing devastating impacts on agriculture and aquaculture. This is precisely what SDG target 15.8 focuses on: introducing preventative measures to reduce the impact caused by invasive alien species in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. We present two case studies demonstrating why SDG 15.8 matters, and what can be done to achieve environmental conservation.

Our first case is the apple snail (ampullariidae), an invasive species that is threatening agriculture, primarily rice patties, in Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Thailand. This species is native to temperate regions in Argentina and the northern Amazon basin, but has spread widely throughout Southeast Asia over the last 30 years after human introduction in 1980. [1] It is the primary pest in rice and taro production, damaging crop quality and yield as it feeds on these aquatic plants which then allows bacteria and pathogens to infect the crops. [1, 3] About 1.4 million hectares of rice fields in the Philippines have been infested by the golden apple snail, resulting in significant economic loss for smallholder farmers and communities. [3] This species has rapidly spread across agricultural land and wetlands — creating a serious threat towards achieving SDG 15.8 by threatening life on land and water. Due to apple snails’ large consumption of aquatic plant life, there is a possibility that they could “alter the natural balance of a water system.” [1]  In order to manage overpopulation of invasive species such as the apple snail, prioritizing management through innovative solutions such as government regulation of prevention tactics, financial assistance for farmers experiencing production losses, and enforced community management of alien species’ populations is key.

A second invasive species threatening Southeast Asia waterways — waterways that are essential to supporting agriculture and aquaculture practices — is the suckermouth catfish (hypostomus plecostomus) and originally hails from South America. It was brought to Southeast Asia as an ornamental fish for aquariums. However, poor regulations and release of the fish by irresponsible pet owners introduced them into the wild. [4] The catfish poses a unique challenge to aquaculture and agriculture. In the Philippines, their sharp spines create tears in fishing nets. They reproduce quickly by nesting in riverbanks — edging out local species for food. [4] In Vietnam, they are a growing issue in the Mekong Delta where they invade local aquaculture ponds. Unfortunately, they have no economic value as they are generally unpalatable. The species poses a risk to land as well, digging holes in the river and banks thereby causing erosion. [5] The Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has taken steps to combat the impacts of invasive species, but the government lacks resources to effectively enforce regulations on the sources of invasive species like pet stores and ports where these species are smuggled. [4]

The United Nations recognizes the issue of invasive species, noting that although 98 percent of countries have legislation on preventing invasive species, more funding is required from national governments and international financial institutions to implement global legislation that addresses the transboundary nature of the problem. [6] Our two case studies particularly illustrate the threat of invasive species to environmental conservation, as well as the vulnerability of land and marine ecosystems.

Human introduction of non-native species threatens habitat degradation and commercial agriculture in Southeast Asia. International and regional organizations (such as ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) should support the fight against invasive species by setting common policies and ensuring that nations have the funding and resources to implement them. In the long run, these commitments will help ensure Southeast Asian countries achieve SDG 14 and 15 and beyond.


[1]: “Applesnail (Pomacea Canaliculata, Pomacea Insularum).” Fish and Wildlife Service ANS Task Force. https://www.fws.gov/anstaskforce/spoc/applesnail.php.

[2]: “Invasive Snails Leave a Trail of Destruction.” Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International Invasive Species Blog. November 28, 2019. https://blog.invasive-species.org/2018/09/14/invasive-snails-leave-a-trail-of-destruction/.

[3]: “Apple Snail.” Hawaii Invasive Species Council. November 22, 2017. https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/hisc/info/invasive-species-profiles/apple-snail/.

[4]: Macaraig, Mynardo. “Philippines to Fight Invading Species.” https://phys.org/news/2011-03-philippines-invading-species.html.

[5]: vietnamnews.vn. “Sucker-Mouth Fish Threatens Indigenous Mekong Species.” http://vietnamnews.vn/environment/239675/sucker-mouth-fish-threatens-indigenous-mekong-species.html.

[6]: “SDG Indicators.” https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2021/goal-15/.

“Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Sustainable Development. 2016.  https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal14.

“Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Sustainable Development, Targets and Indicators. 2016 https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal15#targets_and_indicators.

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