There's a new way to report invasive species sightings on P.E.I., and it's entirely online.
In late November, the P.E.I. Invasive Species Council launched its new reporting system: an online mapping system called EDDMapS. That stands for Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System.
The system is already used in several American states and some other Canadian provinces. It was created in 2005 by the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia.
Simon Wilmot, coordinator for the P.E.I. Invasive Species Council, said the mapping tool is essential to the council's project of building an early detection and rapid response framework for the Island's invasive species.
"What we're working to do is establish a cost-effective way to manage the potential negative impacts of invasive species, and the key part of that is through detecting those species when they arrive on the Island and responding as rapidly as possible," said Wilmot.
Throughout the summer, the Invasive Species Council worked with local environmental groups to control the spread of invasive species such as giant hogweed.
Wilmot said previously there were several databases and spreadsheets from different environmental organizations across the Island that kept records of invasive species. He hopes this new mapping system will be a centralized location where Islanders can find information about invasive species.
How the mapping system works
When Islanders spot an invasive plant or insect on their property or out in nature, they can make a report through the EDDMapS app or website. Those reports are then verified by an expert like Wilmot before being placed on P.E.I.'s map.
David Dutkiewicz, an entomology technician at the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., said reporting through EDDMapS can help people learn more about what's in their own backyard.
"If they have something like EDDMapS and they see something weird on their property and they're like, 'Hey, this is weird, I'm going to take a photo of it' … they can send it to someone to have it verified and that verifier will send them back either yes or no answer," he said.
Derissa Vincentini, community action leader at the Invasive Species Centre, said the mapping tool can help environmental groups respond to invasive species quickly.
"The earlier that we can detect an invasive species that's been introduced recently, then the more easily we're able to respond to that threat and eradicate it," said Vincentini, adding that it's cost effective to respond to these species before they spread widely.
According to Vincentini, EDDMapS combines information from another invasive species mapping tool called iNaturalist, so the system has a sizeable amount of data on invasive species across Canada and the U.S.
Reporting through the EDDMapS app and website is free, but users need to make an account to report a sighting.
'We need the public's support'
Wilmot said one key reason Islanders should report sightings of invasive species on their properties is that most land on P.E.I. is privately owned, which means many areas can't be easily accessed by environmental groups.
"Invasive species obviously don't discriminate between public and privately owned land," he said. "We need the public's support to record those observations or get in touch and let us know where they are."
Dutkiewicz said just one invasive insect, like the emerald ash borer beetle, could devastate Canadian forests and negatively impact the economy if not properly managed.
"You're talking about the loss of hundreds and hundreds of millions of trees, and that impact alone, you know, economically is huge," Dutkiewicz.
Vincentini said the more people looking for invasive species, the more time experts get to work on eradicating those species.
"You also have people actually starting to think about their actions and how they may be contributing to the spread of invasive species," she said.
The P.E.I. Invasive Species Council is running a contest until Feb. 1 to see who can report the most sightings of invasive species through EDDMapS. More information can be found on the council's Facebook page.