New York Sea Grant's Launch Steward Program: STOP AQUATIC HITCHHIKERS!

New York Sea Grant's Launch Steward Program: STOP AQUATIC HITCHHIKERS!

The New York Sea Grant (NYSG) managed Launch Steward Program teaches boaters how to look for, remove and properly dispose of aquatic hitchhikers to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. NYSG Launch Stewards are stationed at select boat launches along Lake Ontario from Wayne County to Jefferson County and inland on Oneida Lake and the Salmon River Reservoir.

This blog will provide a glimpse into steward activities while providing boaters with tips to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Help Prevent AIS Spread BEFORE We Pay for Their Management (By NYSG Launch Steward Ryan Thompson)

An Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) is an organism introduced to an ecosystem that disrupts the native habitats of the region.  These organisms are spread a number of ways including accidental dispersal by humans.  AIS are becoming a persistent problem for waterways in New York State (NYS), clogging boating channels, disrupting the natural food webs, and impacting taxpayers.  The impacts of AIS on local economies include AIS management costs, and the potential to decrease shoreline property value.

According to a study by the Anderson Economic Group, AIS have a huge economic impact on the Great Lakes region.  The study states that it is “likely that the overall aggregate level of cost (to industry, consumers, and government) to the Great Lakes region is significantly over $100 million annually.”

The economic weight of AIS has been felt locally.  In 2011, Hydrilla, an aquatic invasive plant, was discovered in the Cayuga Lake inlet in Ithaca, NY.  Hydrilla posed three main problems to the economy of the surrounding area: hindering boating experiences, compromising flood control measures, and lowering property tax revenues.

Efforts to suppress the waterweed have proved to be effective, yet costly.  James Balyszak, project manager of the Hydrilla Task Force of the Cayuga Lake Watershed, states that the project is currently in year three of a ten-year plan.  Balyszak estimates the expenses of the Hydrilla removal project at $400,000 for 2012. He expects the cost to remain in the $400,000 to $500,000 range per year for the remainder of the project.

AIS can adversely affect recreational activities, such as boating, fishing, swimming, and lower the overall aesthetics of a property, and have the potential to decrease shoreline property value.  There is no definitive estimate for the impact AIS have on property values, however, heavy growth of aquatic weeds, including AIS, can decrease shoreline property values by up to 20 percent, says Invasive Species Specialist Chuck O’Neill with Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Ithaca, NY.  O’Neill stresses that, “even a 10 percent drop in waterfront property values can be a big hit to a local community.”

Suppressing AIS to maintain water and habitat quality is tough work.  NYS residents can watch for opportunities to participate in local citizen programs, such as water chestnut pulls.  Educational outreach programs, such as the New York Sea Grant (NYSG) Launch Steward Program, are a valuable source of information about AIS, prevention measures, and management efforts for coastal residents, boaters, anglers, municipality leaders, and service groups.

Shoreline property owners and recreational users can be proactive in protecting their own property from AIS and the associated costs.  To help reduce the impacts of AIS on your property and at recreational areas, report any new AIS plant or animal to your local Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) coordinators; find offices via

Those who fish, boat, kayak and canoe are advised to inspect their watercraft and equipment after every use and properly discard any aquatic hitchhiking organisms or debris or collect a specimen for identification by iMapInvasives ( and/or local PRISM experts.

Look for, remove and dispose of vegetation on trailers, boats and other surfaces that come into contact with the water. Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Clint Whittaker

NYSG Launch Steward inspecting boat for aquatic hitchhikers.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

Help nip AIS in the bud before they nip us in the pocketbook. For more information on protecting native habitats against invasive threats, contact NYSG at 315-312-3042, To learn more about the NYSG Launch Steward Program visit:

This is part of the NYSG Launch Steward article series that was published in local newspapers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Glance at the Aquatic Profile of Sodus Bay (By: NYSG Launch Steward Sophia Oliveira)

The New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Program has expanded to include Sodus Bay, the largest sheltered bay on Lake Ontario. A popular recreational and tourism area, Sodus Bay is an excellent place for the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Program to be educating the public about the importance of preventing and slowing the spread of harmful aquatic hitchhikers.

Boaters enjoying a day on the water at Sodus Bay.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Sophia Oliveria
With an average depth of 18 feet and a maximum depth of about 48 feet, Sodus bay provides habitat for fish and other freshwater aquatic organisms. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Sodus Bay covers a surface area of about 3,357 acres and is located in the Towns of Sodus and Huron in Wayne County.

This extensive bay supports an abundance of fishing, making it a popular year-round fishing destination with the local and out-of-county anglers. Summer bass fishing, ice fishing for perch, and spring bullhead fishing are popular angling activities.

Beautiful day for launching a boat at Sodus Bay
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Sophia Oliveria

The NYSDEC monitors the fish species in the bay by implementing lake creel surveys, gill net sampling, and electrofishing. Field biologists are evaluating whether or not walleye stocking is effective, along with monitoring fish species and community populations. The bay supports a vast variety of fish including longnose gar, bowfin, northern pike, chain pickerel, channel catfish, brown bullhead, white perch, rock bass, pumpkinseed, bluegill, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black crappie, walleye, yellow perch, gizzard shad, and pugnose shiners. According to International Union for Conservation and Nature, pugnose shiners are a threatened species due in part to habitat degradation.

       "A sunset view of a watercraft on Sodus Bay"
               Photo courtesy of: Wayne County Tourism office

While the bay provides suitable habitat for native fish and plants, a number of factors, including AIS, are decreasing the water quality and suitability of the ecosystem to the natives. AIS such as Eurasian water milfoil, Curly leaf pondweed, and European water chestnut are becoming nuisances to native plant species by outcompeting for resources.

Wayne County Soil & Water Conservation District's Weed harvesting Program at work in Sodus Bay. 
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Sophia Oliveria

Sodus Bay is a tourism gem of the southern Lake Ontario region, important to both the environment and economy. Stewardship, research, education, outreach, and citizen awareness and interest are all important ways to help support Sodus Bay as a valuable resource for fishing, boating, swimming, and vacationing as well as  its role in the local and Great Lakes ecosystems.

This summer please take the opportunity to meet the NYSG Launch stewards at Sodus Bay, Port Bay, and elsewhere in the shoreline region to learn about the voluntary watercraft inspections that help with AIS management.

NYSG Launch Steward Brittney Rogers shakes hands with boater after showing him how to inspect his boat for aquatic hitchhikers. Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese
For more information on protecting native habitats against invasive threats, contact New York Sea Grant at 315-312-3042,

This is part of the NYSG Launch Steward article series that was published in local newspapers.   

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reaching Out with Outreach

One of the chief responsibilities of the New York Sea Grant (NYSG) Launch Stewards is educating the public about preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. In addition to launch site education that focuses on teaching boaters how to look for, remove and dispose of aquatic hitchhiking debris and organisms, the launch stewards also provide attendees of local outreach events (festivals, fairs, tradeshows, etc.) and formal outreach events with AIS prevention tips. The 2013 NYSG Launch Stewards have attended a variety of outreach events and participated in hands-on AIS control events.  


The season was kicked off with Dune Fest (organized by NYSG, NYSDEC and NYS Parks) on May 30th, at Southwick Beach State Park. Launch Stewards educated nearly one hundred 7th graders from Belleville-Henderson and Sandy Creek Middle Schools on the aquatic food web of Lake Ontario and impacts of AIS. A game that simulated the interactions between different species in aquatic ecosystems was used to show students how the introduction of AIS significantly disrupts the food web and affects the ecosystem.

The food web diagram above was used to develop the game.
Diagram compliments of NOAA

Instructors of each group of students stood in the middle of a circle of students and Launch Stewards and acted as the sun. Stewards explained how the sun provides the necessary energy for the lower level of the building blocks of the wood web (primary producers). Students selected and wore a picture and description of a native species that is found in Lake Ontario. The stewards wore AIS pictures. To represent the species interactions a ball of string was thrown from the sun (the instructor), to native species beginning with primary producers (algae, phytoplankton and aquatic plants). The string was held onto by each person while the ball was thrown to various species throughout the trophic (energy) levels in the ecosystem creating a food web. Once each student had a place in the food web, AIS were introduced by the Stewards who tugged on various parts of the food web demonstrating which native species were affected by the introduction of AIS. The game was a fun interactive way to show students how AIS change the food web. Students learned that everything in nature is connected and that the introduction of AIS changes the food web.

2013 NYSG Launch Steward Megan Pistolese acting as the Sea lamprey during the NYSG Aquatic Food Web activity. Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman


On June 22, Launch Stewards participated in the Citizen Science Expo held by Save Our Sodus (SOS) at the Sodus Bay Yacht Club. The event helped attendees learn how they can get involved and help prevent and/or slow the spread of AIS.  AIS specimens were presented and a discussion was given about the different AIS that are impacting Sodus Bay and Lake Ontario. These specimens were used to show attendees how to properly identify AIS. Attendees also learned how they can prevent the spread of AIS by following the Clean, Drain, Dry messaging.

NYSG Launch Steward Sophia Oliveira teaches a family about some of the AIS in Lake Ontario.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman
In addition to the NYSG Launch Steward display there were other organizations there to provide valuable information about science of Sodus Bay. Some of the other organizations in attendance included Save Our Sodus, NYSG Clean and Safe Boat, SUNY ESF researcher Dr. Greg Boyer, Wayne County Soil & Water Conservation District, and Wayne-Monroe CCE. It was a great day and event. Thanks to SOS for inviting us and putting this event together to provide the residents of Sodus Bay information about various science efforts going on in the bay.

The 2013 NYSG Clean and Safe Boat at Save Our Sodus' Citizen Science Expo.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

Weather station buoy deployed by Dr. Greg Boyer, SUNY ESF.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman


On July 11th Launch Stewards were invited to speak to teach people about watercraft inspection and common AIS and native lookalikes. A discussion about what Launch Stewards do and how they interact with boaters as well as a boat inspection demonstration was given. Ideas about how to better improve the water quality of Sodus bay were presented. This event was organized by Save Our Sodus, Arney’s Marina and NYSG.  


The Launch Stewards participated in a number of European water chestnut hand-pulls throughout the season. Hand-pull locations included the Salmon River (Pine Grove Boat Launch, Oswego County, NY),  Emerald Point in Sodus Bay (Wayne County, NY), and Oneida Lake. European water chestnuts are a common AIS that have become established in many local waters in high densities limiting boating access and impacting the aquatic food web. Physical removal the plant by kayakers and boaters is one of the ways to reduce their populations and help slow their spread. Weed harvesters have also been used throughout Sodus Bay and other parts of the Lake Ontario watershed to help control aquatic invasive plants.

NYSG Launch Stewards at the Port Ontario Water Chestnut Hand-Pull at Pine Grove Boat Launch.
From left to right: Nick Spera, Brittney Rogers, Megan Pistolese and Clinton Whittaker
Photo by: Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District, John DeHollander

One of Wayne County Soil & Water Conservation District's Aquatic Weed Harvester in Sodus Bay.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

NYSG Launch Steward Brittney Rogers hand-pulling European water chestnuts.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese


On June 15th, Launch Steward Ryan Thompson manned a NYSG and AIS informational display at the finish line of the Oswego triathlon. Triathlon organizers are becoming more interested in AIS prevention education at their events because the aquatic leg (swim or paddle) is a potential vector for the spread of AIS. Many attendees admitted they had not thought about their wetsuit, booties, and other triathlon swim gear being a vector for the spread of AIS. During this event participants and onlookers learned about AIS and tips to prevent the spread of aquatic hitchhikers. Attendees were interested in learning about the current status of AIS in Lake Ontario. Anglers in attendance shared stories with Ryan about their experiences with AIS and expressed concern about the potential impacts of AIS on sport fish populations. Events like this allow Launch Stewards to share the Clean, Drain, Dry messaging.


On July 29th, Launch Steward Heather Dunham attended a Wear It event at Wright’s Landing. Similar to other events, information about AIS and the NYSG Launch Steward Program was presented to attendees. People were also encouraged to wear life jackets as part of the Wear It event.


August 7th -8th, Launch Steward Megan Pistolese accompanied Dave White, NYSG Recreation and Tourism Specialist, at the 26th annual Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls, NY. The event is the largest outdoor agricultural show in the northeast, filling 300 acres with displays of the latest agricultural equipment, educational seminars, demonstrations and opportunities to ask experts about just about anything that has to do with farming. During the event an informational table was displayed showing viewers examples of AIS. NYSG spoke with attendees about the impacts of AIS and how implementing the Clean, Drain, Dry messaging can prevent their spread. Dave White gave demonstrations on the various life jackets that can be worn and the Clean and Safe boat was loaded up with different types of boater safety equipment.

Dave White discusses AIS issues with a colleague at Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls, NY.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese 
AIS information table at Empire Farm Days
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese

NYSG Clean and Safe Boat Display
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese

Although a few weeks remain, we hope you will take the chance to stop by and visit with us at future outreach events. The NYSG Launch Steward Program would like to thank all of the organizations that have invited us to participate and partnered with us in these outreach events.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Meet the 2013 NYSG Launch Stewards

New York Sea Grant's Launch Steward Program Expanding for 2013!
2013 NYSG Launch Steward Crew
Top (L to R): Nick Spera, Clinton Whittaker, Ryan Thompson
Middle (L to R): Brittney Rogers, Mary Penney
Bottom (L to R): Heather Dunham, Sophia Oliveira, Megan Pistolese
Photo by: Dave White, NYSG

The summer Launch Steward program coordinated by New York Sea Grant (NYSG) is expanding from Jefferson and Oswego counties to include waterfront sites in Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, and Wayne counties.

In 2013, the NYSG Launch Steward Program that informs the public about the Lake Ontario and Oneida Lake and inland rivers environment is focused on offering voluntary watercraft inspection education to motorized and non-motorized boaters at 15 launch sites.

The seven college students hired as the 2013 NYSG Launch Stewards are now covering the eastern Lake Ontario shoreline from Sodus Bay to Henderson, the Oswego River, Little Salmon River, Sandy Creek, Stony Creek, and the Oneida Lake.

  • Nick Spera of Brewerton, NY, takes on the role of Chief Steward in 2013. He will assist the sic new incoming stewards and expand his own educational outreach focused on public involvement in AIS management through such activities as water chestnut pulls. Nick is an Environmental Science and Psychology graduate of Nazareth College.
  • Sophia Oliveira of New Milford, CT, is a 2013 biology graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology. She plans to continue her education with graduate studies focused on conservation and wildlife biology in the fall.
  • Megan Pistolese of Watertown, NY, will be a senior environmental science major with Empire State College in the fall. She is interested to participate in public educational efforts to preserve local waterfront environment.
Four of the stewards were graduates of students of SUNY Oswego, 

  • Heather Dunham of Hornell, NY, will be a senior zoology major in the fall. The educational aspect of the Launch Steward programs fits her interest in becoming an educator at a zoo.
  • Brittney Rogers of Mexico, NY, is a 2013 zoology graduate of SUNY Oswego. Her goal is to pursue a career in wildlife rehabilitation and outreach and conservation.
  • Ryan Thompson of Savona, NY, is a SUNY Oswego graduate with a biology degree and an interest in environmental health and biosecurity career opportunities.
  • Clinton A. Whittaker, Jr. of Manchester, NY, will be a senior biology major at SUNY Oswego in the fall. He is pursuing multidisciplinary interests in the field of ecology.

The goal of the inspections and public education programs offered throughout the boating season by the NYSG Launch Stewards is to empower boaters to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist Mary Austerman serves as the Launch Steward Program Coordinator. NYSG coordinates the Launch Steward Program in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Parks, the Towns of Henderson, Scriba and Sodus, the City of Oswego and Onondaga County. Funding is through a Great Lakes restoration Initiative contract administered by the Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What is New York Sea Grant and Who are the New York Sea Grant Launch Stewards?

What is New York Sea Grant?

New York Sea Grant (NYSG) with Great Lakes and marine district offices, is among the largest of 33 university programs stemmed from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's NationalSea Grant College Program— with a breadth reaching to every U.S. coastal and Great Lakes state, Guam and Puerto Rico.

NYSG is a federal and state funded research and extension network dedicated to maintaining the environmental quality of coastal and aquatic ecosystems by providing university-based scientific research, education and community outreach programs.

NYSG is a cooperative program through the State University of New York (SUNY) and Cornell University. Currently, NYSG is funding 20 research and outreach projects focused on preserving New York State's aquatic natural resources ( The NYSG supports research projects that focus on important environmental issues that affect aquatic ecosystems. Unbiased scientific techniques and peer-reviewed processes are used to conduct research through the NYSG. To see the current research NYSG is funding visit: is

NYSG Extension provides outreach to various coastal stakeholders. One outreach program currently under way is the NYSG Launch Steward Program that provides outreach to boaters and teaches them how to prevent the spread of unwanted aquatic hitchhikers, including Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). AIS are non-native aquatic species that can cause harm to the environment, the economy or human health. Once AIS have become established in an ecosystem, they are difficult and expensive to manage. AIS can degrade boating and fishing areas and reduce tourism and lakeshore property value—negatively impacting the local economy. 

How have AIS Spread into NY's Waters?

Many AIS were introduced into the Great Lakes in the late 1950’s due to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and canal system, which allowed oceanic ships to travel into the Great Lakes. To maintain navigational stability, these large ships fill their ballast tanks with millions of gallons of water, known as ballast water.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency identifies ballast water as a significant source of the AIS introduction in the Great Lakes. As the ships travel on their voyages, they take on and dump ballast water as needed for navigation, potentially sucking up and releasing AIS.

Once AIS were introduced to the Great Lakes, some had the ability to spread quickly by hitchhiking on watercrafts, in bilge and live well water, fishing and diving gear, and through animal activities. More than 180 different AIS have been introduced to the Great Lakes. Some of the most prevalent species that have been introduced are sea lampreys, zebra mussels, spiny waterfleas, round gobys,alewives, Eurasian watermilfoil, purple loosestrife, curly-leaf pondweed and European water  chestnuts.

Since these species are highly competitive and have the potential to cause environmental and economic problems, they have become a targeted focus of the NYSG Launch Steward Program’s outreach efforts.

What is the NYSG Launch Steward Program?

To increase boaters’ awareness, the NYSG Launch Stewards are stationed at boat launches along the southern and eastern shores of Lake Ontario, including tributaries and embayments, and along the southern shore of Oneida Lake.  Launch Stewards offer boaters the voluntary opportunity to learn how to conduct watercraft inspections by looking for, removing, and disposing of AIS and other aquatic hitchhiking debris that may have attached to boats, trailers, and other equipment.

NYSG Launch Steward Brittney Rogers removes Curly-leaf pondweed, an AIS, from a boat trailer at Henderson Harbor, NY. Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese

By reaching out to the boating community and teaching people how to stop the spread of AIS, Launch Stewards encourage the public to do their part to protect New York’s valuable waters. As part of AIS prevention, the NYSG Launch Steward Program has adopted the national Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers campaign by explaining how important it is to “Clean, Drain and Dry” motorized and non-motorized watercrafts and other equipment before leaving and entering water bodies. This is a simple message that will inform boat owners about how they can stop the spread of AIS and improve aquatic ecosystems. Educational outreach programs, such as this, help community members understand the delicate balance that exists within an ecosystem and how human activities can help or destroy that balance.

NYSG Launch Steward Megan Pistolese talks to a father and son about how to stop aquatic hitchhikers. Photo by: NYSG Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers.

Do your part and protect our beautiful waters and Clean, Drain, and Dry your watercraft!

This post was written by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese.