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.

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.