Tag Archives: aquatic invasive species

Invasive Species Spotlight – Hydrilla

Hydrilla is one of the highest priority invasive plants in New York State.  It outcompetes native plants and causes destruction in our aquatic habitats. It can invade the deeper waters where many of our natives cannot and can aggressively grow up to an inch per day. This allows hydrilla to form thick mats at the top of the surface blocking sunlight for the native plants below.  Oxygen is then depleted leading to a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the water and potential fish kills. Sportfish weight and size can decrease due to the loss of open water and natural vegetation and their spawning habitats can be eliminated by hydrilla. The species also causes obstructions for boating, swimming, and fishing. The large dense mats of vegetation can cause property value to decrease, creating problems for homeowners and communities. Hydrilla not only affects our native habitat but also our local communities and businesses.

Hydrilla is a perennial plant. It grows in springs, marshes, lakes, canals, and rivers. This plant can tolerate low and high nutrient conditions and up to 7% salinity. There are two kinds of hydrilla; a southern population which is comprised of mostly dioecious females (meaning the plants only have female flowers), and northern populations which are monoecious (meaning the plants have both male and female flowers).  The dioecious females overwinter as perennials. The monoecious plants set fertile seed and depend on their tubers for overwintering. Hydrilla can reproduce four different ways, including fragmentation, tubers, turions, and seeds. Fragmented pieces with one node are able to sprout into a whole new plant. Tubers are formed on the rhizome of the plant and each one can produce up to 6,000 new tubers! These tubers can lay dormant for over four years before sprouting into a new plant. Turions, or dormant buds, form in the leaf axil of the plant and then break off and settle into the sediment to produce a new plant. Seed dispersal is the least important reproductive method for the species and is often facilitated by ingestion and subsequent dropping of migratory birds. These plants can grow in low light conditions, deep depths and can photosynthesize earlier in the morning than their native competitors. At its beginning stages it can grow up to an inch a day until it reaches the surface of the water.

Leaves_Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Note how small the hydrilla leaves are, photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Identifying hydrilla can be very tricky at times because it looks similar to a native plant, American elodea, and another invasive plant, Brazilian elodea. There are a few distinguishing characteristics that set hydrilla apart from the other two aforementioned species. The leaves are 5/8 inches long and they grow in whorls of 3-10, 5 leaves per whorl being most common. The leaves have distinct serrated edges. A key feature is the dull-white to yellowish, potato like tuber that grow 2-12 inches below the sediment.

Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
A dense mat of hydrilla, photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Hydrilla is thought to have originated from the island of Sri Lanka and possibly the southern mainland of India, but it arrived in the United States from Korea as a popular aquarium plant. Colonies were first identified in canals in Miami and Tampa, Florida. Hydrilla fragments made their way up to New York by attaching to boats, their trailers, and live wells. Boat motors, oars, and other equipment break the plant into fragments, facilitating its spread throughout the affected water body and into nearby water bodies that are hydrologically connected. Hydrilla can spread between water bodies that are separated by geographic distance by “hitching a ride” on watercraft trailers and other recreational equipment. The first time hydrilla was discovered in New York was in August 2011, when Jordan Stark found the species in Cayuga Inlet in the Finger Lakes In September of 2012, the species was found in the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist. It has also since been found in Long Island, including Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Phillips Mill Pond. Since the introduction of hydrilla in New York, a coalition of partners, which includes many state agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses have taken quick action to help prevent its further spread. After a population of hydrilla is found, partners mobilize resources to conduct a focused education and outreach campaign and survey the area where hydrilla was found to understand the full extent of the population. Once surveying is completed a management plan is implemented, which includes aquatic herbicide application. To learn more about best management practices, please go to http://hydrillacollaborative.com.

Want to help manage this unruly aquatic plant? Learn how to properly identify hydrilla. If you think you found hydrilla take pictures, mark your location, and contact your regional DEC office or submit your observation with pictures on the iMapInvasives mobile app or website. Also, it is important to clean, drain, and dry your boats and any fishing or recreational equipment!

Hydrilla treatment Erie Canal
Treating hydrilla on the Erie Canal.

References

“Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County.” 2011 Hydrilla Eradication Efforts. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. http://ccetompkins.org/environment/invasive-species/fighting-hydrilla2011

“Hydrilla (Hydrilla Verticillata (L.f.) Royle).” New York Invasive Species Information. N.p., 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. http://www.nyis.info/?action=invasive_detail&id=16

“Aquatic Invasive Species.” HYDRILLA (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 11 Sept.2014 www.in.gov/dnr/files/hydrilla.pdf

“Highly Invasive Aquatic Plant Threatens New York’s Waters.” Department of Environmental Concervation. N.p., 21 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/85078.html

“Combating Hydrilla.” US Army Corps of Engineers. N.p., 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. http://www.lrb.usace.army.mil/Media/NewsStories/tabid/6146/Article/494240/combating-hydrilla.aspx

 

Did Someone Say “Free Boat Wash?”

Yes its true, boaters can expect to be offered free boat washes from stations at select boat launches throughout the state, especially in places like the Adirondacks. The purpose of these stations are to provide free boat washes while also helping to prevent the spread of certain invasive species.

Everyone takes the time to give their cars a good wash periodically, but have you ever thought about how often you should be cleaning your boat? Boats can be carriers of invasive plants and animals. Most of the time, you can see these plants hanging off your propeller, bunks, and trailer and you can simply pick them off. However, some invasive species, like the young of zebra mussels and Asian Clams (called veligers) are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Yet just adding a few of these into a lake or other waterbody is enough to start an invasion.

When we wash our boats, also known as decontaminating, it reduces the chances of transporting harmful invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, spiny waterfleas, or Asian clams, to additional waterbodies.

How do boat wash stations work?

Boat washing begins with a general boat and trailer inspection.  A trained professional, typically a boat or watercraft steward, first checks over your boat to see if it needs to be cleaned. If a boat is noticeably dirty and has visible plant matter on it, or if the boat was previously in a different waterbody, there is a good chance the boat steward will offer to decontaminate your boat for free. After a visual inspection of the boat and trailer, the boat steward will ask you to lower your propeller, just low enough to check if there is any water in the engine. If water comes out, the engine will need to be flushed of that foreign water with 120o F water from the boat wash station.

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State Parks staff working with Lake George Park Commission stewards to determine if this boat needs to be decontaminated, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

At pristine waterbodies like Lake George, boat stewards are more concerned with boats going into the lake that were previously elsewhere. In other lakes where many invasive species are already present, boat stewards may focus their decontamination efforts on boats exiting the water, to prevent furthering the spread of those species.

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Lake George Parks Commission Stewards using specialty “muffs” to run the engine while also flushing it clean of any water that could be carrying invasives, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Afterwards, if the boat steward determines that you also should have a full decontamination, they will begin cleaning your boat.  The water in the boat wash station is heated up to 140oF with pressure as high as 1,400 PSI. This temperature and pressure has been shown to kill most animals and plants trying to hitchhike on your boat. For specific areas where electronics and engine components are exposed, lower pressure is used to prevent damage to the boats. Boat trailers with felt bunks will be soaked in 140 o F using a low pressure attachment to kill any invasive species that may be hitchhiking on this material.

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Jake Barney, a State Parks Boat Steward, demonstrates using a Boat Washing Station.. The handle in the boat steward’s left hand is used to control the amount of pressure coming out of the hose, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

During the washing, it is important to wash the outside of the boat and trailer, including the propeller, hull, trailer hitch, and underneath the trailer. It is also important to flush the engine and drain the bilge to ensure the boat is properly decontaminated. Boat wash stations can recycle contaminated water and heat it again, ensuring that its runoff will not contaminate the waterbody.  Boat stewards take special care to be sure that no damage happens to the boats during cleaning.

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What your average portable boat washing station looks like. The yellow tanks on each side hold water used for decontamination. The machine has a gas engine but uses a diesel burner to heat the water to 140o F, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Boat wash stations are an effective way to clean your boat of all invasives, including those that may be too small to see. Using the boat washing station is the most efficient and effective way to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, while also providing a free cleaning of your boat and trailer!

Thanks for helping keep New York’s pristine lakes and rivers clean, so we can continue to enjoy them for generations to come!

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Kayaking at Fair Haven Beach State Park, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Additional information:

Click here for more information on boat decontamination procedures:

Decontaminating your boat with a boat wash station is always suggested, but be aware that some lakes, such as Lake George, require you to get a decontamination before launching.

Heading to the Adirondacks or Lake George? Find a boat wash station here.

This summer, State Parks will be opening two boat wash stations, one at Allan H. Treman State Marine Park and the other at Saratoga Lake State Boat Ramp.

Post By: Jordan Bodway and Kristin King, Lead Boat Stewards, State Parks

Attention Boaters! Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!

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?

Completing survey
State Parks Boat Stewards work to help reduce aquatic invasive species in New York State waters, photo by Ro Woodard OPRHP

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.

Sarah in AIS disposal box
AIS disposal boxes are great places to put any plant or animal species you find on your boat, photo by Meg Phillips, DEC

 

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.

Plants on rake
Removing autotroph aquatic invasive plants, photo by Meg Phillips, DEC

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.

Happy boating!

Download an Aquatic Plant ID sheet here. To learn more about other invasive species throughout the state, check out the New York Invasive Species Clearinghouse.

For more information on the boat steward program, please contact Matt Brincka, Ocean & Great Lakes Educator, New York State Parks, at 518-402-5587

Post by Matt Brincka, OPRHP

Invasive Mussels & Snails of Lake Champlain

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.

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.

ariana inspection
Ariana London completing a boater/angler survey about aquatic invasive species at the Great Chazy River Boat Launch (north of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain). Photo by Megan Phillips, OPRHP.

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.

Sources:

http://www.nps.gov/isro/planyourvisit/upload/ZMBoaters.pdf

http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/lakes/docs/ans/lp_zeeb-factsheet.pdf

http://www.adkwatershed.org/invasive-species/invasive-species-information/zebra-quagga-mussel

https://adkwatershed.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/banded-mystery-snail-vs-chinese-mystery-snail/

http://www.lcbp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/LCB_Invasive_Species_Guide.pdf

http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=1047

Staff Spotlight: What it means to be a “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.

mock inspect
Stewards conducted mock watercraft inspections for AIS at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondack Park. Returning stewards from the Paul Smith’s program took on various “boater personalities” to help the new stewards prepare for any type of situation that could arise at the boat launch.
ais hands on
Paul Lord (SUNY Oneonta) held a hands-on invasive plant and animal identification session, which was an invaluable piece of the training for the stewards. After they had time to become familiar with the specimens, stewards were given a quiz!

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.

s poweres
“So far, the two main aquatic invasive species that I have found are curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil. I keep some samples on my table to show to boaters and park visitors who come by to learn about them. I also throw my rake into the water every morning to gather new specimens. I have been learning to identify many different types of aquatic life!” – Sarah Powers, Salmon River and Lake Ontario steward.

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.