Press-Republican

May 26, 2013

Boaters can curb spread of invasives

By JEFF MEYERS
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Check, clean and dry.

Those are some of the most important steps boaters can take to reduce the potential for spreading aquatic invasive species from one body of water to another.

Mark Malchoff from the Lake Champlain Sea Grant recently gave a presentation on the invasive species that have already entered Lake Champlain and those that are on the horizon and pose a definite threat of entering the lake basin.

“We are an incredibly mobile society,” Malchoff told those in attendance.

He described the “check, clean and dry” process boaters should use to look for unwanted plants and animals clinging to their boats and trailers or hiding in their live wells or water bilges.

“If people did this, we would solve 90 percent of the overland vector” in transporting unwanted pests.

DRAIN AND DRY

An initial inspection of the boat or trailer upon leaving the water can pinpoint obvious hitchhikers. Many boat launches across the region have disposal sites for aquatic plants that are removed from boats and trailers.

Boaters should also drain live wells and bilges before leaving the boat-launch area. Any unwanted bait should be placed in the trash, not in the water body.

Many area car-wash companies now offer space for boaters to clean their boats and trailers before returning home, officials said. Then, leaving the boat at a location where it can totally dry before the next excursion will complete the removal of most hidden hitchhikers.

“This is a very appropriate topic,” said Dave Robinson of the Champlain Power Squadron, a group of local boating enthusiasts that hosted Malchoff’s presentation. “We, as boaters, are involved in this invasive-species topic, and we can do a lot in terms of prevention.”

INVASIVE SOURCES

Malchoff reviewed several important differences between native and non-native species and between nuisance and invasive species.

Many plants and animals may cause a nuisance to boaters and other recreational users, but invasive species actually impact the environment and threaten native species, he explained.

Invasive species typically have no natural predators and reproduce rapidly once established in a river, lake or pond. They will typically out-compete native species for food and often produce toxins that are deadly to the native species.

Boats provide a common form of transportation for invasives, but they also move into new areas through gardening — the sale of purple loosestrife, for example — and when set free from home aquariums or released through illegal stocking, Malchoff said.

“Sometimes it’s intentional; sometimes it’s unintentional,” he said. “Releasing small bait in New York and Vermont is illegal, but it still goes on.”

NUMBER OF SPECIES

Lake Champlain is currently home to 49 exotic species, including such invasives as zebra mussels, water chestnuts and Eurasian milfoil.

By contrast, more than 180 exotic species can be found in the Great Lakes, 87 in the St. Lawrence River and 91 in Hudson River — all water bodies that have physical connections with Lake Champlain.

“We’re relatively low in comparison because there’s not as much through traffic (in Lake Champlain),” Malchoff said, referring to the ocean vessels that enter those other water bodies.

“We’re trying to maximize that to our advantage” in keeping new species from entering the lake basin.

ON THE LOOKOUT

Malchoff reviewed several lesser-known species that have found their way into Lake Champlain, including white perch, rudd and tench, which are fish species that have already impacted local fish populations.

The Asian clam is an invasive species that surrounds Lake Champlain but has not yet been identified in the lake. Officials are asking the public to keep an eye on the mollusk, which looks more like a fresh-water clam than the zebra mussel.

Asian clams populate sandy areas and can be devastating to water-intake pipes once they colonize an area.

Spiny water fleas, bloody red shrimp and round gobies are also knocking on Lake Champlain’s door and could become invasive species here soon, Malchoff noted.

“We can stop this stuff,” he said of the public’s ability to make a difference in curbing the movement of invasive species.

“It may involve some changes in behavior but not huge changes.”

Email Jeff Meyers:jmeyers@pressrepublican.com