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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Watercraft Inspections: Clean, Drain, Dry

Over this past summer, you may have met a New York Sea Grant Launch Steward at your local boat launch. Who are these people in the red shirts, and why are they asking questions?

Launch Stewards in the eastern Lake Ontario region are typically college and/or graduate students hired and trained by New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a statewide network of integrated research, education, and extension services promoting coastal economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and citizen awareness and understanding about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources.

A boater inspection his trailer for any unwanted aquatic hitchhikers that may have become attached during launch/retrieval of his watercraft. Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

The goal of the NYSG Launch Stewards is to increase public awareness about identifying aquatic invasive species (AIS) and helping to control the spread of AIS to different bodies of water.

Aquatic invasive species are non-native plants and animals that threaten native plants, wildlife, and their habitat. AIS degrade boating and fishing areas, and can reduce lake shore property values and tourism. Once AIS are established, containment is difficult.  By voluntarily participating in watercraft inspections, you too can help slow the spread of AIS. Inspecting your boat before entering and after leaving a body of water and removing any type of debris (plant and/or animal matter) from your watercraft, properly disposing of that debris, and drying your vessel will slow the spread of AIS.

During the 2014 NYSG Launch Steward Program, NYSG Launch Stewards were able to educate more than 10,600 people at various boat launches to help stop the spread of AIS in the eastern Lake Ontario/Oneida Lake regions. Over the course of the summer, the Launch Stewards inspected various watercrafts identifying AIS as well as other aquatic hitchhikers that can hitchhike on various points on the boat and trailer.

On average, 8% of the boats inspected by NYSG Launch Stewards had one, if not more, aquatic hitchhikers present. The three most abundant AIS found this past summer in chronological order include; Eurasian watermilfoil at 68%, Zebra mussels at 15% and Curly-leaf pondweed at 15%. Many of these aquatic plants are able to propagate from small leaflets of the mother plant. This adaptation allows many of the AIS to spread easily and is why it is so important for boaters to follow inspection protocol. The Launch Stewards were well receptive with boaters; and due to their efforts, helped to increase public awareness on AIS to those who previously were unaware of the harmful affects they had on the lake ecology.

Boater drying his boat, helping to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Megan Pistolese

Three important steps of Clean, Drain, Dry are:

Inspect & Clean: Remove all visible plants, animals, fish, and mud from your boat, trailer, or other equipment and dispose of these debris in a suitable trash container or on dry land away from vehicle traffic and water. It is also important to check any other type of equipment that comes into contact with the water such as tubes, fishing, gear, and even scuba gear.

Drain: Drain water from bilge, live wells, ballast tanks, boat bodies, and any place capable of holding water, before leaving the boat launch.

Dry: Dry your boat, trailer, and all equipment completely. Drying times vary depending on the weather and type of material. Dry by hand, or let vessel sit to dry for at least five days, which is enough to kill most aquatic organisms that may be left on the boat during the summer months.

Practicing watercraft inspections protects our local waterways and habitats and keeps them a valuable resource for use now and for future generations.

Patron inspecting scuba diving gear for any aquatic invasive species;
Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers 

Anglers: Proper Disposal of Bait Helps Slow Spread of AIS
  • The NYSG Launch Steward Program shares the following tips to empower anglers in the battle to slow and stop the spread of aquatic invasive species that can damage your favorite fishing areas.
  • If you are an avid fisherman in New York State, please follow New York State bait laws.
  • It is best to purchase live bait from a licensed dealer in the region which you plan to use it.
  • Learn to recognize juvenile Asian carp (a disastrous AIS in the Midwest).  The juveniles look similar to some common bait minnow species.
  • Never dump bait directly into a body of water. Many invasive species are spread when people inadvertently dump live bait such as non-native minnows, worms or frogs in or near the water.
  •  Unwanted bait should always be disposed of in the trash or at a waste disposal station which many boat launches have. 

Boater disposing aquatic plant material into a waste disposal station;
Photo by: 2013 NYSG Launch Steward, Ryan Thompson 

Aquatic Pet/Plant Owners: Proper Disposal of Unwanted Pets/Plants
  • Another condition in which invasive species are spread is from the release of unwanted exotic aquatic plants or pets from their aquariums. 
  • Unwanted pets or plants can usually be returned to an aquarium supplier.
  • Importantly, aquarium owners or gardeners should consult their state and federal lists of prohibited invasive species before purchasing a new plant or animal.
  • Using native flora in ponds and aquariums is a simple way to avoid the spread of AIS.

Tips for Fishing at the Salmon River

As the leaves start to change and we prepare ourselves for a long Central New York winter, new outdoor activities start to take place. One such popular activity among outdoorsman includes fishing for Pacific Salmon on the Salmon River. As anglers get out their waders from basement storage, and prepare themselves to hook up with a monster Chinook Salmon, it is important to note that AIS can still be spread.

One such hitchhiker which can attach to felt waders includes Didymo or rock snot. This nuisance algae prefers freshwater rivers, and streams with cold water temperatures. Didymo can negatively affect stream habitats and sources of food for fish. To help stop the spread of AIS please reference the picture below which depicts the proper protocol and gear to inspect before and after visiting the Salmon River or other Great Lakes tributaries.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NYSG Launch Stewards: Helping to Control the Spread of Aquatic invasive Species (AIS)

The overall goal of the New York Sea Grant Launch Steward Program was to increase public awareness on identifying aquatic invasive species (AIS) and how the public can help control the spread of AIS to different bodies of water.

So, what are invasive species?

  • Invasive species are non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem and their introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm. 
  • Aquatic invasive species can outcompete the native species that occupy the same niche. 
  • Some of the AIS that are common in New York bodies of water include the zebra mussel, Eurasian watermilfoil, Hydrilla and the European water chestnut. 
  • Zebra mussels have been linked to food web disruptions, causing a bottom-up trophic cascade which adversely affects the lake ecosystem population dynamics. 

Eurasian watermilfoil, Hydrilla, and European water chestnuts form thick mats of vegetation at the water’s surface, blocking sunlight for native plants and decreases in dissolved oxygen levels, leading to fish kills.

Early detection is crucial to controlling AIS as smaller populations are easier to eliminate or manage, than larger ones. Individually removing plants by hand with small infestations rather than large established areas may help to reduce overall management costs.

Volunteers and Launch Stewards at a European water chestnut hand-pull on the Oswego River near Battle Island, Fulton, NY. During this event, the group removed 1,250lbs. of water chestnut;
Photo by: Richard Drosse

AIS Hand-Pulls 

Hand-pulls involve the public/volunteers in physically removing unwanted species from a body of water. On July 14, 2014, in partnership with the 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 Stewards assisted in educating participants about AIS prevention and to help stop the spread of the European water chestnut in a hand pull event on the Salmon River. Approximately 30 participants (including many local volunteers) removed more than 300 pounds of European water chestnut from the river.

European water chestnuts collected from the Salmon River, Launch Stewards Ashleigh Grosso (Left) and Rob Tornatore (Right); Photo By: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

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

Mechanical and Herbicide Control of AIS

Large populations of AIS may require the use of mechanical harvesters or pesticides.

Mechanical harvesting machines cut and collect the aquatic plants, removing them from the water by a conveyor belt system. The plant matter is stored in the harvester until the collection can be removed and disposed of away from the water body. 

Mechanical weed harvester removing aquatic plants on Sodus Bay, 2013.
Photo by: NYSG Coastal Community Development Specialist, Mary Austerman

The application of herbicides is also used to achieve control of AIS. Highly infested areas often must be treated for multiple years to eliminate the invading population. Aquatic herbicides are chemicals specifically formulated for use in water to kill or control aquatic plants.

Aquatic herbicides are sprayed directly onto floating or emergent aquatic plants or are applied to the water in liquid or pellet form. Most herbicides have restrictions on the use of the water body immediately after treatment, lasting up to 30 days, depending on the dose rate or use of the area. Follow-up monitoring should track the applied chemical and changes in the plant communities, water quality conditions, and impaired uses.

The effectiveness for any given herbicide treatment varies with the treatment design, and the conditions of the water body and treatment site listed.  In general, the effectiveness of an herbicide treatment will last anywhere from several weeks to several months, usually corresponding to a single growing season. 

Since seeds and roots frequently are not affected by treatment, once the chemicals have degraded or washed out of the system, plant growth will resume, and reapplication may be necessary. Effectiveness rarely carries over to the next growing season.  

Please note: only licensed applicators should handle herbicides

Public Education About AIS

Another means of controlling AIS is through public education. The NYSG Launch Stewards have educated boaters and members of the non-boating public about such programs as Clean, Drain, Dry watercraft inspection. These programs have led to increased public awareness on the various AIS that plague our lake ecosystems; as well as the vectors in which they can spread. With the Launch Stewards helping patrons visiting the boat launches identify AIS, the Launch Stewards were able to inform the public how they could become stewards themselves, by reporting sightings of suspected invasive species to Follow the previous link to learn more about these efforts. 

2013 NYSG Launch Steward Megan Pistolese conducting a voluntary watercraft inspection with a local boater at Henderson Harbor Boat Launch. Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

Various organizations such as OCSWCD, SLELO PRISM, and Save Our Sodus were able to locate several priority sites with European water chestnuts. Once located, these organizations, the Launch Stewards and many concerned patrons helped target and remove these infestations from several bodies of water. Throughout 2014 Launch Steward Program, the Launch stewards were able to remove a total of 2,050 pounds of European water chestnuts in three separate locations, which helped restore large portions of New York’s aquatic ecosystem.

NYSG Launch Stewards: Getting Familiar with The Issues

The college students hired by New York Sea Grant (NYSG) to work as Launch Stewards come from different educational institutions and have different knowledge bases and work experiences. NYSG has developed an in-depth training program to get the stewards up to speed on the current aquatic invasive species (AIS)/AIS-related issues in the region.

The NYSG Launch Steward training prepares the students to perform to the standard consistent with NYSG outreach and provides them with the information and resources needed to respond to boaters' questions. Travel to the various launch sites enabled the stewards to identify variances in aquatic plant and animal species at the sites across seven counties. NYSG provided additional training throughout the boating season.

In 2014, the Launch Stewards attended weekly team meetings to discuss experiences at their designated launch sites and share different perspectives on how to help educate the public about stopping the spread of AIS. The stewards also discussed projects they were developing to help further increase public awareness on AIS.

Above: NYSG Launch Stewards going over materials during a weekly team meeting. From Left to Right; Jeremy Galvin, Maggie Markham, Jake Barnes, Rob Tornatore, Rob Bucci, Ashleigh Grosso, Jordan Bodway.

Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

The Launch Stewards updated and created educational displays, PowerPoint presentations and posters for use at local fairs/events and at launch sites. The Launch Stewards extended outreach in cooperation with a variety of public and private environmental organizations by attending events such as European water chestnut hand-pulls, the Skaneateles Antique Boat Show, Magic in Minetto, Empire Farm Days and the New York State Fair.

NYSG Launch Stewards: Aquatic Plant Identification Training

Part of the annual training of the NYSG Launch Stewards focuses on aquatic plant identification. In 2014, staff at Cornell University’s Biological Field Station at Shackelton Point provided native and invasive aquatic plant identification training. This training highlighted plant species commonly found at the launch sites within the NYSG Launch Stewards' coverage area.

Above: NYSG Launch Stewards holding different aquatic plant species during the aquatic plant identification plant training at Shackelton Point with Limnology Research Support Specialist Kristen Holeck. From Left to Right, Ashleigh Grosso, David Newell, Maggie Markham, Jeremy Galvin, Jordan Bodway, Rob Tornatorre, Rob Bucci, Jake Barnes

Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

The plant identification training was instrumental in helping the Launch Stewards prepare to educate the public, reinforcing how quickly AIS can spread and the many negative impacts AIS can have on our environment:

  • Unchecked or not properly managed AIS can quickly impair recreational activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing.
  • AIS are particularly detrimental to our fisheries as an overabundance of plant growth can reduce oxygen levels in the water which contribute to fish kills.
  • AIS can also destroy stands of native vegetation, adversely affecting the animals that depend on the native vegetation for food and habitat.
  • Excessive plant growth can also lessen aesthetic appeal, potentially causing lower property values.

With this invaluable information, the 2014 NYSG Launch Stewards were able to effectively communicate and stress the importance of stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species to the public.

Above: Shackelton Point's Limnology Research Support Specialist Kristen Holeck helping to educate two of the 2014 NYSG Launch Stewards on identifying and differentiating between many of the native and nonnative species they were most likely to encounter working throughout the summer. Left to right: Rob Tornatore, Jordan Bodway, Kristen Holeck

Photo by: NYSG Chief Launch Steward, Brittney Rogers

NYSG Launch Stewards: iMapInvasives, You can Too!

Trained to identify and locate AIS, the 2014 NYSG Launch Stewards also learned how to utilize iMapInvasives (, an online, GIS-based data management system that assists citizen scientists and natural resource managers working to protect natural resources from the threat of invasive species.

The iMapInvasives website aggregates, organizes and provides information on the extent of AIS and terrestrial invasive species infestations from a wide variety of sources, supporting early detection of new populations of invasive species that may require rapid response and analysis of management strategies at scales relevant to diverse user needs.

The iMapInvasives partnership seeks to support all those working to safeguard environmental resources from the effects of invasive species, including citizens, volunteers, natural and agricultural resource managers as well as scientists, program administrators, and policy makers.

The general public can learn more on the iMapInvasives website.