How to Avoid Spreading Aquatic Invasive Species
We know it is often difficult to find the time to give your boat and boat trailer a good wipe down between trips to the lake, but did you know that not doing so can cause the spread of invasive aquatic species? You might pride yourself on keeping your boat in tip-top, squeaky clean, water-ready shape! However, there is more to keeping your boat and boat trailer clean than a bucket of soapy water several times a season. While grit and grime may make your boat look bad, it pales compared to its impact on invasive aquatic species on your local waterways. Boats and boat trailers easily spread invasive species. Here we will discuss how to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species and damaging the delicate ecosystem of our waterways!
What Are Aquatic Invasive Species?
Aquatic invasive species are fertile and quick breeders, making it easy to establish in bodies of water they don’t belong to! Aquatic invasive species can be various types of plant life, fish, or even animals! Also called exotic species, aquatic invasive species first entered through the Great Lakes in the ballast water of European ships.Ballast water is fresh or saltwater held in the ballast tanks and cargo holds of ships. It provides stability and maneuverability during a voyage when vessels are not carrying cargo, not carrying a heavy enough load, or experiencing rough seas. Unfortunately, after entering the Great Lakes, the invasive species spread and are hard to detect. While some species are microscopic, others can fool you into thinking they are simply harmless weeds.
Why Should You Care?
Every year the transportation of various invasive species occurs between waterways, creating billions of dollars in ecological and economic damage. Clogging water intakes, killing fish, closing beaches due to health concerns, endangering invaluable food and gamefish species, and impeding navigation, aquatic invasive species are a nightmare! Moreover, once they have become established in a waterway, removing them is incredibly challenging (not to mention expensive).
What Do Invasive Species Have To Do With Boating?
Recreational boating and fishing (and the boat trailers that transport these vessels) are the primary carriers of invasive species. Think about the thousands of boat trailers that haul thousands of boats miles across the land to different waters.With the species being hard to detect and easy to spread, awareness among recreational boat owners is becoming increasingly important. Multiple states enforce strict boating laws to help prevent the transport or possession of exotic species. As a boat owner, you are on the front line to help prevent the spread of these species.
Who Are We Looking For?
Recreational boaters should be aware of the two main categories of aquatic invasive species: aquatic plants and mussels. Unfortunately, these two species are often easily and unknowingly transported by unsuspecting boaters via their boat and boat trailer.
The main types of plants to be aware of are the following:
- Eurasian Watermilfoil
- Giant Salvinia
- Water Hyacinth
The Hydrilla and Milfoil species came into the United States for aquarium use in the 1950s. However, by planting or discarding these species along the shoreline, they made their way into Florida’s inland waterways. Because of this, Hydrilla is currently in 28 states and continues to spread. Likewise, milfoil is nationwide as it is very climate-tolerant.
Both species come into new waters through pieces caught on recreational boats, their motors, and the boat trailer. They begin to colonize once removed from a trailer, emptied from a Livewell, or pumped out of the bilge.
Giant Salvinia is a South American aquatic fern that found its way into the United States similar to Hydrilla and Milfoil – imported as an aquarium plant. It is now growing rampant in public waters. This plant multiples quickly, and coverage can double in size in a week. It is especially problematic in Texas. The thick aquatic fern is an oxygen hog and depletes the content in the water – damaging local fish. A single acre can expand into over 2,000 acres in 12 weeks. Giant Salvinia can easily attach to a boat trailer and wreak havoc in new water.
Water Hyacinth forms dense rafts and floats in the water. Keep a watchful eye out for large patches of lavender-blue flowers! While they look pretty, you don’t want to take any home! Water hyacinths have spongy, bulbous leaf stalks and rounded large leaves. Doubling in size in a measly 2 weeks, Water Hyacinths multiply and proliferate.
The two primary types of mussels recreational boaters should be aware of are the Quagga and Zebra Mussel. These mussels came into the Great Lakes through discharged ballast water. Due to their initial microscopic size and the challenge of correctly identifying them, these mussels reign as the most dangerous of all exotic species.
Both mussels are invasive species and have massive impacts on the ecosystems they enter. For example, quagga and Zebra Mussels clog water intake structures, causing an increase in maintenance costs for power and water treatment plants. They also impact recreational fun by attaching themselves to docks, buoys, anchors, boat hulls, and beaches.
In addition, the mussel shells are sharp and cut people. This forces people to wear shoes on beaches where these species have infested. They also attach to boat hulls causing drag, negatively impacting steering, and clogging engines!
How Can Boaters Help?
To help reduce the spread of these and other invasive species, you can follow several steps – clean, drain, dry, dispose, observe, and recognize. If possible, try to complete these steps at the boat ramp after pulling your boat out of the water. If that isn’t possible, a car wash will do the trick!
C: CLEAN off any visible aquatic plants and mud from every boat and boat trailer piece before leaving the ramp. If possible, use water that is at least 120°F. If hot water isn’t available or will damage your equipment, rinse well with tap water and let it dry completely to prevent spreading the plant life. If available, use a high-pressure hose at the boat ramp to help rinse and remove any water life.
Opt for a car wash if a high-pressure hose isn’t available at the boat ramp:
- Rinse off equipment (including the boat trailer) and boat hull with a high-pressure hose.
- Rinse the boat’s insides with a low-pressure stream of hot water.
- Flush the motor with hot water. We recommend 2 minutes, but please consult your owner’s manual before completing this step.
D: DRAIN the motor, bilge, Livewell, and other water-containing components of your boat and boat trailer before leaving the water access. Through draining, you can remove tiny (usually invisible) organisms. Organisms such as Zebra Mussels larvae can easily enter water-containing items.
D: DRY all your equipment, we mean everything, for at least five days. If you hope to go back out before the five-day mark, wipe everything down with a towel before heading out again. Drying is a crucial step as many organisms will survive in stagnant water.
D: DISPOSE of any leftover bait, fish parts, and packing materials in the appropriate place. Do not dump them in any waterways or shores. If you are fishing with live bait and need to replenish the water, refill it with tap water.
O: OBSERVE and take note of any new sightings. If you believe you may have encountered an invasive species, take note of its exact location, take a photo, and let the Department of Fish and Wildlife know.
Here at Rocket Marine, we are advocates for maintaining healthy waterways and continuing to keep sustainable ecosystems for future generations to enjoy. We hope you now know how to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species. We care about our water systems and making incredible quality boat trailers. Learn more about who we are here!
On behalf of our incredible team here at Rocket Marine, we thank you for taking the time to invest in future generations by keeping our water clean!