Water Stewards From SUNY ESF Among Those Trying to Prevent Spread of Invasive Species

Jul 2, 2019

Water chestnut is one of the most pervasive invasive species found in 43 of New York's 62 counties, including here in Central New York. The state DEC says water chestnuts form dense mats of rooted vegetation that can be very difficult to get through in a boat, kayak, canoe, or when swimming. It's native to Africa and Eurasia. It was first discovered in New York in the mid 1880's.
Credit dec.ny.gov

About 20 SUNY ESF water stewards are among hundreds of others who’ve fanned out to waterways across the state this week hoping to prevent the spread of invasive species.  It’s called the “Aquatic Invasive Species Landing Blitz,” where the stewards ask boaters if they can perform an inspection as they exit the water.  Kim Schulz  is Assistant Professor in the department of Environmental Forest biology at SUNY ESF.

"They'll teach the person if they haven't done it before how to go around the boat and trailer to make sure they're not accidentally carrying bits of aquatic plants.  Even a small fragment of those plants could grow in another lake and spread an invasive."

Schulz says the same goes for draining bilge water and live wells which might contain tiny organisms like plankton, eggs, seeds, and viruses that could be spread to other waterways.  She says 10 to 20 percent of vessels are found carrying invasive species.  Urging boaters to clean, drain, and dry their vessels is part of a coordinated effort among the great lakes states and provinces to reach the most people during a period of higher boat traffic.  Schulz says protecting the states aquatic resources is important for the environment, recreation and the economy. 

The state DEC says water chestnut mat can shade out native aquatic plants that provide food and shelter to native fish, waterfowl, and insects. Decomposition of these dense mats reduces dissolved oxygen levels and may kill fish.
Credit dec.ny.gov

"So, if you have all of these plants crowding the lake, making it impossible for people to water ski and swim; making it more difficult for fish to reproduce so the fishing isn't as good...those things affect people's abuility to recreate on the lake.  It also affects the lake's food web."  

So, even if you’re exhausted after a long day on the water, Schulz encourages boaters to perform their own inspections, or allow a water steward to help.  They'll be out there through July 7th.

"Just taking a few minutes to clean, drain, and dry your boat can prevent the spread of something that might affect your local lake negatively, and cause the lake association or the state to spend a lot of money to manage it."

She says on Cayuga Lake, for example, significant money has been spent to contain a fast-growing,  invasive plant called Hydrilla.  It originally came from a pond in Orange County.  It's now been discovered in 11  other counties.

Hydrilla also forms dense mats.
Credit David J. Moorhead via flickr / University of Georgia