Monday, 6 June 2016

Ebay traders of invasive species say they were unaware of legal restrictions

Multiple listings of banned species found and since Guardian investigation 19 ads were closed down – but controlling the trade is akin to a game of whack-a-mole

Thursday 2 June 201613.56 BSTLast modified on Thursday 2 June 201615.58 BST

A killer algae, a monstrous pondweed, a tree that has infested the Everglades and a dozen more of the US’s most environmentally destructive plants have been discovered for sale on eBay. Online traders told the Guardian that ignorance of the law led them to create listings that had spread hundreds of illegal specimens across the country.

Ebay hosted multiple listings for 15 species from the federal noxious weeds list the nation’s highest level of plant biosecurity. Most offered import to the US from abroad. But six sellers were hawking plants from within the country.

Three of the US sellers displayed past sales data, and between them they had sent 259 hazardous envelopes to unknown destinations across the country.

Rival site Amazon also hosted advertisements offering to import banned plants into the US. Amazon declined to comment or offer to amend their listings to prevent dangerous sales occurring.

An eBay spokesman said the company’s guidance places the onus on its users to adhere to local laws. He said the the company had keyword filters that aimed to alert sellers before they made a potentially risky listing. There are also “several teams” dedicated to enforcing the company’s policies.

One species sold on eBay, miramar weed (Hygrophila polysperma), has become a plague in many US waterways since its introduction in the 1960s – even outcompeting other invasive species. In one case, a patch of the plant grew from a tenth of an acre to more than 10 acres in just one year. Its dense mats choke off all other aquatic life, create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, clog irrigation pumps and leave navigable waters impassable.

Miramar weed needs only a shred of tendril to establish a new colony, meaning each online sale potentially spreads it to a new vulnerable habitat.

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