Invasion and migration

Capture

“Invasion of the killer shrimp: Britain on high alert after ‘voracious predator’ from Eastern Europe spotted in UK waters” goes the headline of a story in Daily Mail on 5 October 2012. The main concern for Daily Mail is that this “alien shrimp” has migrated from Eastern Europe and that it could cause havoc by killing a range of native species, particularly the “British Shrimp” which forms valuable part of the UK’s marine ecosystem. It’s odd that Daily Mail has taken interest in a conservation issue, but it is the World’s Most Popular Online Newspaper reaching 45.3 million people, so surely, that’s a good thing for conservation? Potentially 43.5 million people will become aware of a serious conservation issue from this news report.

But reading between the lines, I am struck by the parallels drawn in this news report between migration and invasion. Shortly after some of the Eastern European countries joined the European Union in 2004, there was a wave of migration to Britain and tabloid newspapers launched on this issue. Apocalyptic scenarios of migration were portrayed and that created public anxiety over harmful effects of Eastern European migration on the European economy. Whether or not such migration helps or hurts an economy is debatable and I don’t want to go into that debate, but what is striking is the similarities drawn in this news report between invasion of an alien species of Eastern European origin and migration from Eastern Europe.

Indeed, the comments from the readers underneath the news report go like this: “Just one more thing from eastern europe which is not wanted here in the UK” or “This is what happen when you import too many Polish plumbers.” Even though the news report does not directly imply a connections between Eastern European invasion and migration, the readers have picked up on this perhaps unconsciously. So the ‘migration’ frame doesn’t do any favours to creating greater awareness about invasion. Instead, it only promotes Daily Mail’s somewhat xenophobic propaganda – this time pointing to non-native species.

Even more shocking are the parallels between the language used to describe eradication of invasive species and ‘ethnic cleansing’. Provoked by conservation practice in the Balkans, a former student – one of those rare conservation practitioners who reflect critically on their practice – wrote to me: “It has always troubled me that the same language we use to describe native trout populations and how to conserve them are a direct mirror of the language used to justify ethnic cleansing and genocide of human populations (i.e., ‘etničko čišćenje’ –ethnic cleansing. A genetically pure species of trout is referred to as a ‘čista populacija’ a ‘clean population’, which is the exact same language that was used to ‘cleanse’ ethnically diverse population of people–to rid them of their ‘aliens’.”

Are alien invasive species perhaps bringing out some our worst fears about our place in this world? Any sensible conservationist, I am pretty sure, will abhor ‘ethnic cleansing’  and instead celebrate living in a multicultural world. Yet, we are comfortable with those exact same words to describe invasive species management – intriguing!

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