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.
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.