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.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 NYSG Waterfront Launch Stewards Educating Boaters on Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention (By Kara Lynn Dunn)

Eight New York college students interested in environmental science careers have finished working with the New York Sea Grant (NYSG) Launch Steward program. This past summer the launch stewards educated boaters about preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). The stewards have demonstrated watercraft inspection at sites along the Lake Ontario shoreline from Sodus Bay to Henderson, the Oswego River, Little Salmon River, Salmon River, Sandy Creek, Stony Creek, and Oneida Lake from Bridgeport to Brewerton.

The 2014 New York Sea Grant Launch Stewards are, front row from left, Rob Bucci,
Brittney Rogers, Ashleigh Grosso, and Jordan Bodway, and, back row from left,
David Newell, Rob Tornatore, Jake Barnes, and Jeremy Galvin. Photo by: NYSG

Brittney Rogers of Mexico is serving as Chief Steward with responsibilities for coordinating scheduling and overseeing steward activities, which include collecting data on how often boaters are practicing aquatic invasive prevention practices on their own. She is a 2013 SUNY Oswego zoology graduate who worked with the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Program in 2013, completed an externship with the Wildlife Center of Virginia earlier this year, and is a Kindred Kingdom Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc. volunteer.

Jake Barnes, a junior at Cazenovia College, is studying environmental biology. :As an angler, I have grown to care about the aquatic ecosystem. Working with the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward program offers the opportunity to provide anglers and boaters with information about how they can help protect our water resources," says Barnes.

Jordan Bodway, a junior at the State of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is studying environmental science. “I am interested in protecting the integrity of our water resources. Working as a New York Sea Grant Launch Steward has provided me with valuable experience in public outreach through interacting with boaters and visitors to the launch areas about how they can help slow the spread of aquatic invasive species,” says Bodway.

Robert Bucci of Pennellville is a SUNY Plattsburgh graduate with a degree in Environmental Science/Ecology. He brings experience as a Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve naturalist and an environmental educator at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ecology Camp to his role as a Launch Steward. "I am interested in building my aquatic species knowledge as a Launch Steward and helping to ensure healthy ecosystems for future generations by interacting with boaters with a goal of becoming an Environmental Conservation Officer," says Bucci.

Jeremy Galvin of Oswego is a sophomore studying Environmental Science Systems at Le Moyne College. "My interest is in environmental engineering. Working with the New York Sea Grant Launch Stewards was a great opportunity to interact with the community and encourage a positive attitude toward conservation," says Galvin.

Ashleigh Grosso of West Monroe is a Cayuga Community College freshman studying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Science. GIS use photographs and images from satellites, GPS waypoints and other data sources to create interactive maps for decision makers in environmental, government, law enforcement and other fields. "I have begun to explore career options related to the environment, environmental education and technology. I enjoyed working as a Launch Steward to help educate boaters about aquatic invasive species and how to slow their spread," says Grosso.

David Newell, a junior at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is studying Natural Resources Management. "I am interested in working as an Environmental Conservation Officer and the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward program has given me the opportunity to network with environmental professionals and interact with the public about aquatic invasive species," says Newell.

Rob Tornatore, a senior at the College at Brockport, is studying Environmental Science with a career goal of becoming an Environmental Conservation Officer. “I have enjoyed working as a New York Sea Grant Launch Steward and helping to keep our lakes healthy for future generations. The Steward program allowed me various learning experiences for both the stewards and the boaters who participate in the watercraft inspection demonstrations,” says Tornatore.

The stewards provided a voluntary service for operators of motorized and non-motorized boats, and shared information on the easy-to-implement Clean, Drain, Dry method that boaters can use to help slow the spread of aquatic invasive species such as European water chestnut, Hydrilla, Waterfleas, European frog-bit, Asian clam, and Rusty crayfish.

The Launch Stewards are seen overlooking the lake at Beaver Lake Nature Center located in
Baldwinsville, New York. The time spent at Beaver Lake Nature Center was spent learning more
about the native flora and fauna species, along with the many unique adaptations these species
 have. The Launch Stewards pictured from left to right are Anthony Tornatore, Canastota; Robert Bucci, Pennellville; Jordan Bodway, Sylvan Beach; Chief Steward, Brittney Rogers, Mexico;
 Jeremy Galvin, Oswego; Ashleigh Grosso, West Monroe; David Newell, Henderson;
Jake Barnes, Wolcott. Photo by: NYSG

The students hired as the 2014 New York Sea Grant Launch Stewards have been trained by New York Sea Grant, which has developed the New York State Watercraft Inspection Steward Program Handbook for the Cornell University Statewide Invasive Species Outreach Program. The handbook is funded in part by the New York State Environmental Protection Fund administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

New York Sea Grant Coastal Community Development Specialist Mary Penney serves as the Launch Steward Program Coordinator. New York Sea Grant coordinates the 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 Parks. Funding is through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance.

For more information, contact Mary Penney at 315-312-3042. New York Sea Grant offers an RSS news feed, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube links online at

Monday, September 8, 2014

Water Chestnut Control: Start Early and Continue; Pull performed July 13, 2013 (By New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Nick Spera)

Plants are good for the environment, right? Not always.

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) in local watersheds and ecosystems are negatively impacting native plants, animals and habitat. An invasive species is defined by the federal Executive Order 13112 that establishes a National Invasive Species Council as a species that is non-native to the ecosystem of interest and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Locally, European water chestnut (WC), scientifically known as Trapa natans, is an AIS causing problems in Oneida Lake, the Salmon and Oswego Rivers, and some embayments of Lake Ontario.

Closeup of water chestnut rosettes during a WC pull in Sodus Bay.
 Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers
Originating from Europe, Asia and Africa, WC has made its way to North America over the years and now grows, and, often thrives, in freshwater habitats such as nutrient-rich lakes and slow moving or stagnant rivers.

Without control efforts, WC plants form dense floating mats that severely limit light and oxygen availability for native species. Water chestnuts easily outcompete native species by overcrowding to dominate waterways and increase the potential for fish die-off. Large colonies of WC also negatively affect boating, fishing, swimming and other aquatic recreation.

With such a quickly-reproducing species, control methods can be quite difficult. If not kept in check, WC will flourish and thrive until it clogs one area and begins to spread to surrounding waterways.

How do we manage something that has the ability to spread so rapidly?

The answer is through concern, persistence, and dedication. We're able to manage this with the help of environmental professionals, communities and volunteers who come together to raise public awareness of AIS and take on the challenge of AIS management.

Management and control methods vary depending on the location, level of invasiveness, AIS population size, and local conditions, such as the size of the water body and surrounding ecosystem.

Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager John DeHollander says the goal of treatment depends on the site characteristics and density of the WC population.

Hand pulls are done with groups of volunteers, with the goal of removing as much of the WC as possible. Still, some plants can be left behind.  Therefore, it is more reasonable to maintain control over a smaller infested area to prevent the WC from spreading further.

This volunteer is seen with baskets full of water chestnuts collected 
during a handpull event in 2012. Photo by: 2012 NYSG Launch Steward, Nick Spera
NYSG Launch Steward Brittney Rogers collects water chestnuts at a local handpull
Photo by:  2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese
When conditions of a WC infestation are not conducive for a hand pull, other alternatives such as mechanical and/or chemical treatment may be considered.

Mechanical harvesting machines cut and collect the aquatic plants, removing them from the water by a conveyor belt system. The plant matter is then stored in the harvester until the AIS can be removed and disposed away from water. This method works well on large communities of WC that have spread beyond control for mechanical harvesting.
Weeds harvested mechanically in Sodus Bay.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman
"Speaking from years of experience with mechanical harvesting at the same site (Ox Creek) annually for four years, then skipping the fifth year, we saw the water chestnut move right back in, making it look like the site had never been treated,” DeHollander says.

Eradication is very rare, but may be possible if the WC population is small; however, it would be necessary to continue treatment efforts for several years.

Suppression and containment are more reasonable goals for AIS treatment, particularly for larger AIS populations in isolated ecosystems.

With WC being such a rapidly spreading plant, it is sometimes necessary to control the spread of this AIS using chemical treatment. This sort of “shock” method is used to stop the growth and spread of the AIS so it hopefully becomes possible to regain control of the spread. It is important for local efforts to identify WC invasion early, so control efforts can be made early to prevent having to chemically treat the invasive spread and risk damaging other species in the surrounding ecosystem.

To learn more about organizing a local resource, please reference the "Steps and Procedures to Help Organize an Invasive Plant Removal and Disposal" online at

In partnership with Oswego County Soil & Water Conservation District (OCSWCD), St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (SLELO PRISM), and the Oswego County Guides’ Association, the NYSG Launch Steward Program assisted in educating participants in AIS prevention and helped stop the spread of aquatic invasive species on July 13th, 2013. Approximately 38 participants (many of which included local volunteers) were in attendance; more than 530 pounds of European water chestnut were removed from the Salmon River during this event. Volunteers were required to bring their own personal flotation devices and boat (kayak or canoe worked as well).

For more information on protecting native habitats against invasive threats, contact New York Sea Grant at 315-312-3042,

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Can We Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers? Here’s How (By New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Clinton Whittaker)

Aquatic Invasive species (AIS) are non-native species that cause harm to the environment, the economy or human health. AIS are an increasing problem threatening ecosystems all over the United States. Locally, the eastern and southern shores of Lake Ontario and Oneida Lake are being affected by Eurasian water milfoil and European water chestnut. These AIS can reduce property values, harm ecosystems, reduce native habitats where young fish grow, and damage the overall quality of fishing by making entire areas impossible to fish.

Groups including local state and federal agencies, Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM), and extension programs, including New York Sea Grant (NYSG), implement or educate the public about several methods to prevent or slow the spread of AIS.

Different types of AIS control include prevention, and physical, mechanical, chemical, and biological means.

The mechanical aquatic weed harvester operated by the Sodus Bay Improvement Association. 
Photo: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

Prevention involves outreach and education that aims to keep pristine areas free of AIS and to contain AIS infestations to only the infested waters. 

With the goal of prevention in mind, the NYSG Launch Steward Program teaches boaters how to prevent the spread of AIS through voluntary watercraft inspections. The launch stewards are stationed at select boat launches located on Lake Ontario; Oneida Lake; the Oswego, Salmon and Little Salmon Rivers; and Sandy and Stony Creeks to offer voluntary education to boaters on how to look for, remove and properly dispose of unwanted aquatic hitchhiking debris, including AIS. 

Through this outreach, the stewards are empowering the public to self-inspect watercraft, and by implementing watercraft inspection the boaters are helping to prevent the spread of AIS.

Physical control uses manpower to manage AIS. Hand pulls to remove water chestnut from infested waters are typically done by groups of people. On Oneida Lake water chestnut hand pulls have been co-organized by the Oneida Lake Rotary Club and New York Sea Grant, and the Finger Lakes PRISM with local Bass Masters. 

The Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District’s hand pull efforts on Oneida Lake are focused at Big and Muskrat Bays. 

Those interested in organizing a local hand pull will find a how-to tutorial by NYSG Launch Steward Nick Spera online at www.nyseagrant/ccd/stewards

Mechanical control uses machinery to cut and remove AIS. The Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District runs a mechanical harvester on Sodus Bay in an effort to control aquatic weeds. The aquatic harvester is used annually to control the water milfoil and curly leaf pondweed there. 

Chemical control is an expensive, last-resort means of control that uses aquatic pesticides and requires appropriate training and certification. Chemical treatment to control water chestnut in the Oswego River has resulted in a smaller and less robust water chestnut population compared to years when the chemical control was not used.

Biological control introduces an invasive species’ natural predator into the aquatic environment. Years of controlled laboratory research are completed on biological control methods before a release is tested with diligent monitoring in a water environment. One concern with this method is that the biological control species, e.g., introduction of Pacific salmon to consume alewives in Lake Ontario, should not out-compete or prey on the local natural species. 

Prior to the introduction of Pacific salmon in Lake Ontario, the alewife population experienced major die-offs in the summer months. As a result of the Lake Ontario Pacific salmon stocking program by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the alewife population has been reduced to manageable numbers. 

AIS impact us all. While it may be possible to contain, suppress, and, in some rare cases, eradicate AIS infestations, management takes considerable time and money. Because some control methods can be expensive and labor intensive, education methods, such as the NYSG Launch Steward Program, are important as cost-effective ways of engaging the public in helping to prevent and slow the spread of AIS. 

For more information on protecting native habitats against invasive threats, contact New York Sea Grant at 315-312-3042,

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What is That on Your Fishing Line & How Do You Report It? Identifying and Reporting Unknown and Aquatic Invasive Species (By New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Brittney Rogers)

If you are among the anglers who enjoy fishing on the Great Lakes, have you ever caught something you had never seen before? If you answer yes, you are not alone. More than 180 aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Great Lakes are disrupting food webs, degrading aquatic habitats, and displacing native species. Do you know what to do if you find an AIS at the end of your fishing line?

To limit and, in some cases, prevent the spread of AIS and protect the health of popular fishing spots and recreational waterways, it is important for the public to be able to accurately identify and report AIS. Once AIS have become established, it is more difficult to remove or manage them, which is why tracking their distribution range is vital for early detection and controlling the spread of the unwanted species.

The first step after encountering what you think may be an AIS is to try to properly identify the species. The New York Invasive Species Clearinghouse is a useful tool to help you distinguish between AIS and native lookalikes. To help you identify your ‘catch,’ the Clearinghouse website consists of photos, species-specific characteristics (size, color, etc.), range, and tips for limiting AIS spread.

If you cannot confidently identify your ‘catch,’ a sample of the species can be delivered to your local Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) representative for identification. Contacts for local PRISMs can be found at

When collecting samples, be sure to seal the specimen in an airtight package, e.g., a sealable plastic bag, and include the date; the location, including GPS coordinates; and your name and contact information.

This round goby, an AIS, was not what an angler hoped to hook on a recent Lake Ontario fishing trip.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese
Terrestrial and aquatic invasive species observations can be reported to New York’s online database, managed by the NYS Natural Heritage Program. This tool is user-friendly and field-ready with a smartphone application.

To upload data to iMapInvasives, you must receive a username that is generated when you attend a free training session, typically offered by PRISMs in the spring.

After completing training you are ready to begin adding your observational data to the iMapInvasives database. The site provides step-by-step instructions and currently has six different data forms for use: observation, assessment, survey, treatment, infestations, and projects. The site also has species distribution maps, tables, and reports by species/areas.

If possible, take a well-focused, up-close photograph of the species and of the habitat where the species was found. The photograph can be sent electronically to local experts and may be needed for archiving purposes. Photographs are also suggested as collected specimens can lose their color.

Once iMapInvasive/PRISM experts receive a reported finding, they will confirm or correct the sighting using the specimen, photographs, and/or site visits.

The confirmed observational data provided by citizens help PRISM partners develop and implement management strategies for AIS.

Through species identification and iMapInvasives training, you and natural resource managers gain knowledge about which areas/habitats are at greatest risk of invasion, which species pose the greatest threats, and which areas are the most pristine so you can implement preventative practices to help keep these areas clean of AIS.

It’s not too late to make a difference in the fight against AIS. 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.