Invasive Species Prevention

Aquatic invasive species (also called exotic or non-native) are plants and animals that invade an ecosystem where they don’t belong. If the invasive species has no natural predators in its new environment, it causes damage by consuming native species, competing for food and space, or introducing disease. Once they’re established, an invasive species is almost impossible to eradicate.

There are over 4,500 species of invasive plants and animals that have established populations in the United States, and this number increases yearly. Invasive species put significant pressure on about 42% of threatened and endangered species in the United States, and also have a significant human impact costing nearly $120 billion per year (Cornell University). 

Negative impacts:

  • Reduce game fish populations
  • Affect local economies of water-dependent communities
  • Damage boat engines and seize steering equipment
  • Reduce native species populations
  • Degrade ecosystems
  • Affect human health
  • Reduce property values

How do they ‘move’?

Larger ships transport invasive species in their ballast water, while fouling organisms such as barnacles, seaweeds and mussels can move from one location to another by hitching a ride on your boat, on items you use in the water and even your clothes. They also attach themselves to the millions of tons of plastics and other debris that floats with ocean currents around the globe.

How you can help:

The only way to stop an invasive species from causing harm is to prevent them from entering the environment in the first place. Any person enjoying a recreational activity in or on the water can play a key role in preventing the spread of invasive species.

  • Learn to identify invasive species in your area and report sightings to the proper authorities.

                    o   National Invasive Species Information Center 
                    o   Invasive Species Specialist Group 
                    o   Global Invasive Species Programme

  • Prevent and help clean up pollution on land and in the water.
  • Obey all related laws and educate others about the impacts of invasive species.

It is important for boaters to take extra care and properly clean their boats and equipment after each use, as invasive species can hide in common places, including: the motor transom, livewell, anchor rope, boat hull, trailer and your clothes.

Tips for boaters:

  • Remove all visible vegetation from your boat, propeller, anchor, trailer and any other equipment that was in the water.
  • Drain and flush the motor, livewell, bilge and transom wells with hot water.
  • Spray your boat and trailer with high-pressure water and then rinse with hot water.
  • Dry your boat and equipment for at least 5 days before entering a different body of water.
  • Larger vessels that spend months or longer in the water likely need to coat their hulls in antifouling paint. See Bottom Paint for environmentally friendly options.

Tips for SCUBA divers and snorkelers:

  • Inspect equipment for plants, mud or animals and remove any before you leave the area.
  • Drain water from the buoyancy compensator, regulator, tank boot and any other equipment that holds water.
  • Wash your suit and all equipment in hot water and dry completely.

Tips for fishers:

  • Know and observe all live bait collection laws in your area.
  • Never release live bait into a different body of water.
  • Thoroughly wash and dry all fishing tackle, buckets, nets, waders, etc. after each use.
  • Report any invasive species that you see or catch to the proper authorities.

Case Studies:

Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha)

invasive species, zebra mussel, propeller

If you boat in freshwater lakes and rivers, you may be familiar with this invasive mollusk. One of the major concerns regarding zebra mussels is the ease at which it spreads. Native to the Black and Caspian Sea, zebra mussels were first introduced into North America in the ballast water of ocean-going vessels, and have continued to spread to numerous lakes by overland transport, on hulls, anchors and trailers. They are also transported by divers’ wetsuits, in scientific sampling equipment and fishing gear. Zebra mussels cause significant harm to freshwater ecosystems by outcompeting native species for food and space and changing the whole ecology of the body of water. They can also clog water intakes and other pipes, and attach themselves to boat motors, hulls and docks.

Lionfish (Pterois volitans, Pterois miles)

invasive species, lion fish, coral reefs

Lionfish are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific and were introduced into the Atlantic Ocean through the U.S. aquarium trade. These voracious predators, with virtually no natural enemies, are decimating native coral reef fish populations. Local removal efforts can significantly reduce lionfish densities. And they are edible and delicious! However, they have venom glands on most of their spines, so should be handled with care. NOAA recommends treating a puncture wound by immersing the wound area in hot (not scalding) water for 30-90 minutes and seeking medical attention as soon as possible. To learn more check out Invasive Lionfish Web Portal and our Ocean Watch article, The Lionfish Invasion!

 

Green Boating Guide: