Aquatic Hitchhikers: What Boaters Can Do to Stop the Spread of Invasive Species
Ever wander into a lake only to be greeted by the sharp edge of a Zebra Mussel? We’re not surprised. If you live near a natural body of water, you are probably very familiar with this type of invasive species. Not only are these widespread and pesky creatures annoying for boaters, unsuspecting barefoot beach-goers, and fishers alike, they are damaging to the prosperity of fresh water lakes.
Whether you participate in recreational boating, are an avid swimmer or fisher, or prefer to stay aboard the dock to take in the beauty, fresh water lakes, rivers, and streams are some of Earth’s most amazing natural splendors. However, the increased emergence of invasive and non-native creatures such as crustaceans, fish, mollusks, and plants is a major factor in the disintegration of Lakes and Rivers.
The spread of these invasive creatures and plants severely damages the balance of aquatic eco-systems, destroys wildlife, and hinders people from fully enjoying all that fresh water has to offer. In order to ensure our lakes stay pristine and that our native species are protected, it is important that boaters and water-goers take the necessary precautions to avoid contamination.
Steps Boaters and Water Goers Can Take to Reduce the Risk of Spreading Invasive Aquatic Species
- Learn what to look for. If you’re unclear of the invasive species in your region or what they look like, check out the national list (http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/resources/lists.shtml) of invasive aquatic species.
Inspect and Remove
- Thoroughly inspect all of your boat. A thorough inspection should include looking at both the underbelly and deck of your boat.
- Be sure to look at items that came in contact with the water including life jackets, tubes, rafts, and anchors. Check pets for plants or debris.
- Scrape off and dispose of any suspected mussels. Remove all aquatic weeds hanging from the propellers or sides prior to leaving a body of water.
- Drain water from the motor and any other water from your boat and equipment before leaving the area.
- Dispose of leftover bait on land. If you find that you have leftover live aquatic bait that has been in contact with infested waters, it should not be carried to new waters.
- If you store your boat on land, thoroughly rinse and dry all parts of your boat using high water pressure (a hose will work great.) If you find that your have matured mussels on your boat, use extremely hot water to remove. Do not use bleach or other inorganic cleaning agents.
- Boats, motors, and trailers should be allowed to dry thoroughly in the sun for at least 48 hours.
What kinds of invasive creatures and plants damage bodies of water?
In order to avoid spreading invasive creatures, it is important to be aware of what species are considered non-native to your area. For a complete list, visit http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/aquatics/main.shtml. The following are considered to be harmful to bodies of water:
Rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) are native to streams in the Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee area. Spread by fishers who use them as bait, rusty crayfish are can harmfully reduce lake and stream vegetation and deprive native fish and their prey of their homes and food source.
The spiny water flea (Bythotrephes cederstroemi), or “B.C.,” is a crustacean with a long and sharp tail spine. A native of Great Britain and northern Europe east to the Caspian Sea, the creature was first found in Lake Huron in 1984. Since then, populations have exploded and the animal can now be found throughout the Great Lakes and in some inland lakes.
Carp (Cyprinus carpio) are close relatives of a fish that is native to the Caspian Sea region and East Asia. Carp damage shallow lakes by causing cloudy water that can lead to declines in native fish species. The common carp was introduced into the Midwest Lakes and Streams in 1879.
The round goby is a bottom-dwelling fish and an aggressive feeder. Round gobies can forage in total darkness. The round goby takes over prime spawning sites traditionally used by native species and competes with native fish for habitat.
The ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernuus) is a small perch and a native of lakes and rivers in Eurasia. The ruffe competes with native fish for food and habitat. Its ability to push other species out of regions is due to its fast reproduction rate and its ability to feed in a variety of different environments.
Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) are predator, eel-like fish native to the coastal regions of the Atlantic Ocean. They have contributed greatly to the decline of whitefish and lake trout in the Great Lakes.
White perch (Morone americana) are native to Atlantic coastal regions. White Perch are competitors to the native fish species, especially harmful to the walleye population.
Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are small mussels native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia. Since introduced in 1988, they have spread rapidly to all of the Great Lakes and waterways in many states, as well as parts of Canada. Adults can attach to boats or boating equipment that is in the water.
Quagga mussels (Dreissena bugensis) is a close relative to zebra mussels and are indigenous to the Dnieper River of Ukraine. They were discovered in Lake Erie shortly after the discovery of zebra mussels in 1989. Like its relative, they were carried to North America by water discharge from ships.
It is important to remember that the presence of native aquatic plants and weeds is not a threat to lakes. However, certain types of aquatic plants are not well-suited for fresh water lakes. These invasive plants include:
Curly-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) is an exotic plant that forms surface mats that interfere with aquatic recreation. The plant usually drops to the lake bottom by early July. It was accidentally introduced along with the common carp. It has been here so long, most people are not aware it is an exotic.
Eurasian Watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) is an exotic plant that can take root and crowd out the surface. In shallower waters, the plant can interfere with water recreation such as boating, fishing, and swimming. The plant’s floating canopy can also overtake native water plants. A single piece of stem or leaf has the ability to take root and form a new colony.
Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) is a perennial plant from Europe and Asia. It grows in shallow areas of lakes. It crowds out native species. The emergent form has pink flowers and is 3-feet tall.
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a wetland plant from Europe and Asia. The plant can form dense, impenetrable stands that are unsuitable as cover, food or nesting sites for a wide range of native wetland animals, including ducks, geese, rails, bitterns, muskrats, frogs, toads and turtles. Many rare and endangered wetland plants and animals also are at risk.