Are invasive species interrupting your boating and fishing experience? Did you know that if you conduct a quick inspection of your watercraft before and after each use and remove invasive species, you are helping protect and maintain our beautiful waterways? Did you know that many of the invasive species found on boats during inspections out-compete native species, displace waterfowl, decrease the size of sportfish, hinder recreational boating experiences, and damage our environment?
Over the summer, State Parks will have 15 Boat Stewards (Stewards) at many of our boat launches along Lake Erie, Niagara River, Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, Finger Lakes, and Saratoga Lake. The Stewards will conduct educational boat inspections to provide step-by-step instructions on ways you can effectively inspect your boat and dispose of invasive species. These demonstrations are both free and voluntary.
The New York State Park’s Boat Steward Program is one of many boat steward programs throughout New York State. These programs provide targeted educational programming to increase awareness about aquatic invasive species and other environmentally significant issues. When you come across a red-shirted Boat Steward please stop and ask us any questions you may have.
Stewards participate in periodic educational events, festivals, and invasive species removal projects, such as water chestnut pulls. Also, feel free to follow us on the Boat Steward Blog. Stewards will be writing about their experiences and findings as the summer goes on.
In my two months as a New York State Parks Boat Steward on Lake Champlain I have already collected two aquatic invasive species: the banded mystery snail and the zebra mussel. I encountered the banded mystery snail at two different boat launch sites by the shore of Lake Champlain near Point Au Roche State Park. The zebra mussels are often found attached to rocks, driftwood, and recreational equipment that has been in the water for some duration.
The banded mystery snail is native to the southern United States and its introduction to this region can be traced back to 1867 when an amateur biologist released 200 of the snails into the Hudson River. This event was followed by subsequent introductions from aquariums owners. The snails can grow to be 1.75 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, with anywhere from one to four red bands on the shell. This species also lives in very high densities. Scientists are still studying the ecological effects of banded mystery snail invasion on natural communities. However, the presence of the species has been shown to decrease the survival rates of large mouth bass eggs in ponds and in the lab, which may eventually lead to a decline in fish populations in Lake Champlain.
Zebra Mussels attached to a piece of driftwood at the Point Au Roche State Park boat launch on Lake Champlain. Photo by Megan Phillips, OPRHP.
Photo of a Banded Mystery Snail collected from the Point Au Roche State Park boat launch, submitted by watercraft inspection steward Ariana London. Identification confirmed by specialists at SUNY Oneonta.
The zebra mussel is an aggressive species that has spread very quickly since its first introduction to North America from Russia in 1989. By the mid-1990’s the species had become established in Lake Champlain. It is a D-shaped mollusk that is less than 2 inches long and has a distinctive brown zebra pattern on the shell. It poses great threats to native environments because it lives in dense populations of up to 750,000 specimens per square meter. Zebra mussels will attach themselves to any hard surface including native mussels, plants, man-made objects (such as piers and boat motors), and will even adapt to live on soft sediment. They are able to attach to objects by spinning a mass of tiny fibers called byssal threads that allow them to cling to any surface. Their larvae (veligers) are microscopic and float near the surface of the water which makes them easily transportable by boats or any recreational watercraft. Zebra mussels are strong competitors. One way that they outcompete native species is by grazing on large volumes of phytoplankton, thereby reducing the food resources available for native mussel species. They also take up large amounts of space on the lake substrate that is needed for fish spawning. Additionally, they cause drastic economic damage each year by clogging pipes and pumps at wastewater treatment facilities and damaging municipal drinking water systems, hydroelectric power plants and irrigation systems.
While it is possible that Lake Champlain may never be free of the zebra mussels and the banded mystery snail, we can still ensure that these species do not spread to ponds, lakes and streams that are not yet infested. I feel incredibly honored to be part of the effort to stop the spread of the aquatic invasive species by educating people on what they can do to help.
Remember to clean, drain and dry your watercraft after use. To reduce the risk of spreading invasive mussels and snails in their veliger stage, boaters may opt to wash their watercraft and flush the engine with hot water. Research indicates that zebra mussels in the veliger stage cannot withstand water warmer than 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and adults will experience mortality at temperatures greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For a list of hot water, high pressure boat washing station in the North Country/Adirondack Park area, click here.
Post by Ariana London, OPRHP Thousand Island Region Boat Steward.
On a Monday in mid-May the 12 members of the 2015 NYS Parks Boat Steward Program piled into two minivans in the parking lot at Hamlin Beach State Park. The vans were packed to the gills with supplies, including snacks for the road, uniforms, plant rakes, 5-gallon buckets, and folding tables. Strict instructions were given to avoid opening the trunk without someone standing by to catch any overnight bags or coolers that may tumble out. To a bystander, our situation likely seemed akin to a scene from the National Lampoon’s Family Vacation film – only we weren’t leaving for a vacation. We were bound for a multi-day training at Paul Smith’s College, where watercraft inspection began in New York State more than 15 years ago.
Watercraft inspection has become an increasingly popular way to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) via overland transport. During the training, Boat Stewards learn how to educate the public on AIS, conduct voluntary watercraft inspections remove and dispose of any plant or animal matter, and collect data about the boaters that they interact with. This data helps us to understand how and where AIS are being transported, which regions of the state require enhanced outreach, and where boat washing stations would be most efficiently utilized.
Fast forward to five weeks later, the stewards are trained and on-site at 21 launches across the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.
The following images were taken in the field during routine site visits.
Above left: Zebra mussels attached to a stick near the boat launch at Point Au Roche State Park on Lake Champlain. Can you imagine how many of these mussels could cover the bottom of a boat?! Banded mystery snails were also found at this location. Zebra mussels and banded mystery snails are just two of 50 known invasive species in the lake.
Above right: Melyssa Smith (OPRHP Water Quality Unit) and Ariana London (OPRHP Boat Steward) practice throwing the plant rake from a boat launch on the Great Chazy River. It is still a bit early in the season for significant plant growth; however AIS Eurasian watermilfoil and a native Elodea have been collected at this site thus far.
Above left: Tara inspects a motor boat that is preparing to launch. “For me, being a Boat Steward is about patience, passion and perseverance.” –Tara Camp, St. Lawrence River steward.
Above right: A curly-leaf pondweed specimen on the boat launch at Westcott Beach State Park. Notice how the leaves resemble lasagna noodles.
If you encounter a Boat Steward this summer, be sure to ask them how you, a New York State Park visitor, can help halt the spread of aquatic invasive species by adopting a few simple practices when launching or retrieving your watercraft.
And always remember to:
Drain your bilge, ballast tanks, livewells, and any water-holding compartments
Inspect your watercraft and trailer for plant and/or animal matter, and remove and dispose of any material that is found
Clean your watercraft between uses or allow it to dry before visiting a new water body
For more information about the NYS Parks Boat Steward Program, please call (518) 402-5587.
Post and photos by Megan Phillips, OPRHP Water Quality Unit.
Famed biologist E.O. Wilson claimed that the introduction of invasive species is second only to habitat destruction as the leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) is taking on this challenge to protect our biodiversity and reduce the introduction of invasive species in our waterbodies. The problems we have with invasive species in New York state, especially in aquatic ecosystems, are well known and pervasive. Aquatic invasive species (AIS) degrade habitat for native plants and animals, outcompete native species for food and resources, impair swimming, fishing, and boating opportunities, and cost the state millions of dollars to control them each year.
In an effort to protect our New York State Parks from the costly effects of AIS infestations, Parks has adopted a new regulation. The regulation states that a boater:
shall not launch or retrieve their watercraft from a Parks-owned boat launch facility unless the watercraft’s water-containing compartments (livewell, bilge, bait bucket) are dry
has inspected the watercraft to ensure that there is not plant or animal material attached to the motor, trailer, body of the vessel, etc.
A Parks Boat Steward conducting a watercraft inspection at Keewaydin State Park. Photo by Megan Phillips, OPRHP.
AIS watch cards and other educational materials are available at the Boat Steward stations. Photo courtesy of OPRHP.
Invasive water chestnuts collected from a watercraft in the Thousand Islands region during a routine inspection in 2014. Photo courtesy of OPRHP.
Boaters and anglers may also encounter a friendly Parks Boat Steward clad in red at facilities on the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain this summer. Stationed at twenty-one boat launches, the ten Boat Stewards conduct voluntary watercraft inspections for visiting boaters, and will work with the boater to remove any plant or animal material that may be on their vessel or trailer. The Boat Stewards are equipped with AIS publications, specimens, and information about the newly adopted regulation. They do not play a role in the enforcement of the regulation, but rather serve as educators for Parks visitors.
Many Parks-owned boat launch facilities across the state are also equipped with disposal stations for aquatic plant or animal material. The disposal stations are specifically designed to provide a place for plant or animal material to dry out in an upland area.
For more information about AIS in New York State, please visit http://nyis.info.