07/30/2012 05:47 pm ET

Enormous Asian Tiger Prawns Invading U.S. Waters Worry Environmentalists

Scores of giant, odd-looking prawns are showing up in U.S. waters, and environmentalists are worried.

The Asian tiger prawn, or Penaeus monodon, is known for its black color and the bright red stripe that runs along its back. It's non-indigenous, but the threat it presents to local seafood populations is still unknown.

What is known, however, is that their population is growing. The Florida Times-Union reports that in 2011, there were 257 sights in North Carolina, 125 in Louisiana and 23 off Florida's coasts. Compare that to the five total found in 2006, off the coast of North Carolina.

Discovery News made light of the issue late last year, suggesting that the prawns could be considered invasive:

“There’s a certain unknown about what ecological impacts that something nonindigenous like this can have on the local environment,” said Marty Bourgeois, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in Houma Today.

Tiger prawn are voracious predators and are known to harbor numerous diseases that could spread to white and brown shrimp, oysters, and crabs in the Gulf.

Bourgeouis went out to note that the prawn has a "sweet flavor," and eating them may be the best way to solve this problem before it begins.

It's unclear where the crustaceans came from, but The Houston Chronicle writes that theories range from an accidental release of prawns from aquaculture facilities in South Carolina in 1988 to recent hurricane-related floods washing over industrial shrimp ponds in the Caribbean Sea.

For now, scientists are waiting to assess the environmental impact of the prawns.