It’s everyone’s job to prevent the spread of invasive species, but the boating community has a special responsibility. These plants and animals can invade a new ecosystem in an amazingly short amount of time because the new ecosystem may offer no natural predators for the critters hitchhiking a ride on your boat. The incoming species wreaks havoc by bringing in disease, by consuming native species, and creating competition for resources.
According to a report published by scientists at Cornell University in 2004, there have been 138 alien fish species introduced into the United States. As a result many native fish have become endangered, and more have been negatively affected. Also 88 species of non-native mollusks have been introduced. The alien mollusks clog intake pipes, water filtration plants and electric generating plants. This has resulted in a cost of over $100 billion dollars spent per year on cleanup and removal efforts. Some examples of aquatic invaders are:
- Asian carp
- Zebra mussels
- New Zealand mud snails
- Eurasian watermilfoil
- Chinese mitten crabs
- European green crabs
The only way to prevent the spread of invasive species as boaters, is to be observant, to be vigilant, and to put in a little bit of time and elbow grease.
When you pull your boat out of the water, check the propeller, trailer, anchor, fishing lures, etc. for vegetation. Remove it and dispose of it at invasive species disposal stations that have been installed at several boat launch sites, or in an upland area away from water.
Inspect all the gear you used on your trip. Creatures can hide on water toys and fishing equipment, and in live wells, bait wells and bilge areas. If you’ve been using your vessel in an area known to have zebra mussels, feel the underside of the hull. If it feels like sandpaper, it may be infested with mussels. They are especially difficult to kill, and must be exposed to water or steam 140 degrees Fahrenheit or more. They should then be removed by using a pressure washer or a brush.
It’s very important that before you leave the area, you drain all water holding compartments. Don’t forget the ballast tanks, or the bilge.
Even after you’ve gone to this effort, you should let the boat thoroughly dry for five to seven days in warm weather before transporting it to use on a different body of water. If you live in a humid area it may take longer. Even after the outside of the boat is dry, the bilge may not be. Always err on the side of caution.
If you don’t have the time to let the boat dry thoroughly, you can disinfect everything that came in contact with water. You can use hot water–normal hot tap water is approximately 130 degrees at the most—so you’ll have to heat it the additional 10 degrees for it to be effective. You can also use a steam cleaner if you have one.
Bleach is an alternative, but it can corrode some materials. A 2% solution is generally strong enough. If the area you’ve been boating in is known to harbor any specific diseases that are resistant to bleach, you may need to up it to a 10% solution. If you’re cleaning an area prone to corrosion, you can use potassium chloride, which doesn’t corrode. Use 1 teaspoon of potassium chloride crystals to two gallons of water.
If we all work together, we can help prevent the spread of invasive species, and that’s a good thing for anyone who loves being in the water!