How many more invasive species will it take? The news this week isn't good. Spiny waterflea, an invasive crustacean the size of a pinhead, is in the Champlain Canal and now Lake George. This small zooplankton with a big impact is headed towards Lake Champlain, the Hudson River and any number of waters in the Adirondacks. It was first detected in New York's inland waterways in Great Sacandaga Lake in 2008, Peck's Lake in 2009 and Sacandaga Lake in 2010. How many more waters need to be infected before we learn that our actions do make a difference - sometimes for the better, some times for the worse. The clock is ticking. Preventing the spread of invasive species must become part of our recreation routine.
To be successful combatting the spread of invasive species, agencies and stakeholders must understand their pathways, i.e. how invasives are getting transported from place to place, and then take measures to stop their spread. This can be through individual actions, formal programs and policies, or, maybe we need to outsmart the invasives and use technology to vaporize, sterilize or paralyze them into remission. This approach is becoming more popular in recent months since the number of introductions is rapidly rising.
Aquatic invasive species generally arrive in the U.S. through ship's ballast water, the aquarium trade and live food market. Once in the States, AIS most commonly get free rides from lake to lake or river to river through recreational boating, angling activities and the canal system. Sometimes AIS are detectable - like plant fragments and zebra mussels clinging to watercraft or when used as bait - and other times they are invisible stowaways, like didymo (also known as rock snot) and spiny waterflea. We need to be mindful that our actions, unintentionally, could be transporting both the seen and unseen.
Spiny water flea
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Gunderson, MN Sea Grant)
What's at stake? Fisheries: The spiny waterflea, for example, is a zooplankton, which means that it is at the bottom of the food web. A voracious feeder of other zooplankton, the spiny waterflea depletes the food source available for small fish which in turn provide food for larger fish, and so on. This disrupts the structure of aquatic life and the food web and could have far-reaching impacts on world-class sport fisheries.
Water recreation is also at stake: The spiny waterflea can quickly reach population levels in the millions since it can reproduce every two weeks. Though an individual is nearly microscopic, when they reach high densities, spiny waterfleas amass in gelatinous globs on fishing lines, fouling downriggers and other fishing gear and aggravating anglers.
Local economies will be stressed, too: County, town and village governments are increasingly being tasked with cost-sharing management programs to help keep invasives at bay, stretching already strapped budgets. Our local economies are inextricably linked to the region's natural resources, which bring tourists to our area, provide outdoor recreation opportunities and support our cultural legacy.
In some cases, we need to learn to live with invasives because the infestation is too widespread and funds too limited to manage them, or because no available control technologies exist, as is the case with spiny waterflea. So what do we do?
We can invest more in solutions: 1) launch a statewide awareness campaign that enlists all New Yorkers to help stop the spread of invasive species, 2) garner support from the private sector and academia to develop innovative spread prevention technologies and 3) harness attention of local, state and federal leaders to take action funding prevention programs before it is too late.
We as individuals are the first line of defense and can make a difference. If we each take simple steps to prevent the spread of invasives and make those steps part of our routine each time we are out enjoying the water, we will slow, and even stop, the spread of invasive species and protect our favorite places.
Check; clean; dry; use; repeat. That's all it takes. Find out more information about how to prevent the spread of AIS at protectlakegeorge.com.