Aquatic Invasive Species
We hear and read a lot these days about what it means to be “green” and what we can do to improve the quality of our environment. It impacts our lives in many ways; community recycling programs, hybrid automobiles, new materials that are biodegradable, and news everyday about the cost of “global warming.” Some say that what many are doing is more talk about “green” than being “green.” This leads to a lot of skepticism about the movement toward cleaner air, cleaner water, and a cleaner environment, its claims and its commitment. However it impacts us, there is little doubt that the awareness about the need to be “green” is growing and this is prompting new initiatives that may shortly move us to another level in our commitment to do more to keep the environment clean. We seem to be at a turning point in terms of public awareness and political energy.
How does this apply to boaters? Well everyone is aware of what it means to keep the waters clean; stashing trash rather than throwing it overboard, recycling, using onshore restrooms before leaving shore, avoiding fuel spills, and scrubbing desks with fresh water to limit the use of detergents.
But the other day I received a press release from BoatUS regarding another serious problem with our waterways. The problem is with Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). “Invasive species” sounds pretty grim. Are these just small, little extra-terrestrials? No, but they are serious. Aquatic Species which are native to waterways in other areas of the world, can have a significant impact on our ecosystems when introduced to our rivers, lakes, bays and oceans. We call species that are not native to their current habitat, "exotic." Exotic species become "invasive" when they negatively affect the native ecosystem and native species by encroaching on habitat and food sources. They include both aquatic plants and aquatic animals. Invasive aquatic plants adapt to living in, on, or next to water, and can grow either submerged or partially submerged in water. Invasive aquatic animals require a watery habitat, but do not necessarily have to live entirely in water.
| Zebra mussels grow in clusters.|
“So what,” you say. Aquatic Invasive Species have been introduced throughout the United States and are harming the natural resources in our ecosystems and threatening the our use of these resources. The Izaak Walton League of America estimates that invasive species cost the United States nearly $130 billion each year. That is the size of the proposed rebate program to stimulate our economy. For boaters, the impact is more direct. Aquatic Invasive Species reduce game fish and other native wildlife populations, ruin boat engines, jam steering equipment, increase the operating costs to produce drinking water and maintain our power plants, and affect human health.
Here is the story of Zebra Mussels from the University of Michigan website:
- Zebra mussels are a barnacle-like mollusk (mussel) native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia
- They were discovered in Lake St. Clair in 1988 and have spread to all five Great Lakes.
- They attach themselves to hard objects such as submerged rocks, dock pilings, boat hulls, and native clams and mussels (killing them).
- They clog water intake pipes at power plants and water treatment facilities and cost millions to control each year.
- They have contributed to declines in Great Lakes fish, such as yellow perch.
| Watermilfoil is often transported on outboard engines.|
The Eurasian watermilfoil is no better:
- It is a submerged aquatic plant that can form thick mats in shallow areas of lakes and rivers.
- Mats of watermilfoil can displace native aquatic plants, interfere with swimming, and entangle boat propellers. Once established, the plant is nearly impossible to eradicate.
- Discovered in North America in the 1940s, Eurasian watermilfoil has invaded nearly every U.S. state and at least three Canadian provinces. Watermilfoil spreads by floating on water currents or clinging to boats, motors, trailers and fishing gear.
And it is not just Lake Michigan. The Water Chestnut is a problem in the Chesapeake Bay. According to ChesapeakeBay.com, Water Chestnut is an aquatic plant native to Europe, Asia and Africa. The water chestnut was introduced to the eastern United States during the 1870s. Here is the problem.
- Water chestnut colonization creates a canopy that interrupts the passage of light through water, which is necessary to maintain a well-functioning ecosystem.
- Water chestnut colonies crowd out and alter the habitat of many native species.
- The dense mats created by water chestnut colonies block navigable waterways for boaters.
- The water chestnut seed is a danger to bathers and beachcombers, its hard spikes capable of tearing through shoe leather
And just recently, The East Bay Municipal Utility District in the San Francisco Bay area restricted recreational boating in six reservoirs to prevent the spread of two non-native mussels. Boats from Southern California and San Benito and Santa Clara counties will be banned from using the six reservoirs — some of them popular recreational lakes. The goal is to prevent the spread of these mussels and to protect the water system and the environment from the severe damage that these mussels cause.
On any one day, an estimated 3,000 species are transported in the ballast water of ocean-going vessels around the world. These little devils, like the green crab, zebra mussel and Pacific jellyfish, have displaced native species and diminished biodiversity. The economic impact is enormous and the result is often a fundamental disruptions of coastal ecosystems.
Each waterway has its own unique species to be concerned with. The Great Lakes, Massachusetts waters, the Chesapeake Bay and Lake Champlain all have different kind of problems. Local, regional, and national organizations are working to contain and hopefully eliminate the problem. But they need your help.
Recreational boaters often, but unknowingly, spread the “disease.” These invaders typically hitchhike rides on trailers, boats, boating equipments, and fishing gear. But there are things we can do to reduce or eliminate the spread of these organisms. Before you leave the launch, remove all aquatic plants, mussels or other visible organisms and place in the garbage, drain water from your boat, including the motor, livewell, and bilge, and do not release live bait from one location into another.
Several websites focus on the issue of invading species, including www.protectyourwaters.net, www.izaakwaltonleague.org and www.invadingspecies.com, while many others discuss other aspects of “green boating.” You’ll find some great information at www.cleanboats.org, and www.boatus.com.