Banding Together to Battle Invasives


SCA Member Sarika Khanwilkar Waves her Machete for Invasive Species Awareness Week

An invasion is occurring right now, all over the country. Lining roads, populating waterways and lurking in your own backyard, non-native plants and animals have hitched a ride with humans and spread across continents. Whether they were transported intentionally or as cargo ship stowaways, in ecosystems where these new species flourish to the detriment of native plants and animals, they are invading. Although it’s disheartening that humans often facilitate the invasion by smuggling in exotic plants and pets, it means that we have a chance to practice preventative measures to stop further damage.

This flowering prickly pear cactus (Florida native) along the trail is a sign that Spring has arrived.

The gumbo limbo tree, another Florida native, is nicknamed the tourist tree because of the peeling bark.

In an attempt to save endemic and valued species, extensive efforts are going towards fighting invasives. My SCA biology internship at the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) allows me to be on the front lines of this fight. 

Along with your typical tools of the trade—machete and a GPS unit—I wore a hard hat to avoid the many branches that would have surely whacked me in the head. Sometimes the dense vegetation forces me to stop moving and get creative in finding a way out besides back the way I came.

I have traveled through unexplored areas of the coastal hammock habitat—where I encountered the tallest Red mangrove trees I’ve ever seen— as well as to sites of high human-use, locating and killing invasive plants the whole way. With a variety of mechanical and chemical eradication methods to choose from, killing invasives is always an adventure.

Prop roots of Red Mangroves towered over me.

The biggest challenge came early, when I was learning to identify the targeted species. Florida’s subtropical ecosystems were completely new to me, and the diversity flourishing here made any landscape a mosaic of nameless plants. But, it only took a week of non-stop searching to engrain my memory, and now I just can’t help but to notice the invasive plants wherever I go.

My automatic, almost subconscious ability to spot invasives has enormous advantages in the field. However, after dedicating many sweaty days to tromping through the Refuge to kill these harmfully out-of-place species, nothing is quite so disheartening as seeing invasive plants being culitvated in the gardens of adjacent private landowners. With most simply unaware of the harm that they are doing, it will take long-term effort and funding to address this issue through education and outreach.

Me and three High Schoolers spent Saturday morning manually removing invasive plants from the Refuge.

National Invasive Species Awareness Week is a great example of an effective community outreach campaign. It brought local High Schoolers out to Hobe Sound, along with employees from the Nature Conservancy, staff from nearby refuges, and a group of alternative spring breakers from Rhode Island, all for a day of targeted invasives eradication.

​The map above shows other places that held events in recognition of National Invasive Species Awareness Week. This type of cooperative undertaking is absolutely necessary if we’re going to succeed at protecting, restoring, and conserving  our public lands. It’s been truly empowering to see such a wide range of people come together to roll up their sleeves and work hard toward this common goal.


Inspire another young conservationist… and safeguard our parks today!

Help students like Sarika protect parks today and emerge as nature’s stewards for tomorrow.


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