Spread the word, not the species

Education is key to preventing aquatic invasive species in Michigan.

Michiganders display a strong sense of pride in their states’ many rich natural resources. This is evident in the “Pure Michigan” marketing campaign that debuted in 2006. Commercials depicting tourists enjoying our many lakes and streams, hunting and fishing sports and many other outdoor activities; sampling local foods, fun and other fair are encouraged. Keeping Michigan’s natural resources “pure” is paramount.

Protecting our waterways and watersheds from aquatic invasive species (AIS) is one way but it isn’t embraced by every community, resident and visitor. Some find that surprising. Michigan has over 11,000 inland lakes and the five Great Lakes that provide water, food and recreation, plus unlimited scenic opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Michigan is ranked number three in top boating destinations ranked by economic value, according to DiscoverBoating.com, the National Marine Manufacturers Association public awareness web site. Their 2012 report states that there are 812,000 registered boats in Michigan. Add to that the many travelers who visit our state; putting many of Michigan’s most popular waterways at risk for contamination of aquatic invasive species.

Once thought to be spread by ducks and other migrating waterfowl, we now know that the transport of watercraft (including power boats, jet skis, sea planes, canoes, kayaks and other water sport gear) are the principle carriers of invasive species to Michigan’s waterways. Watercraft are not the only culprits either. Other suspects are hunters and anglers who also spread their fair share through unclean decoys, equipment, and illegal transport of bait. Will Michigan become a safe haven for invasive species?

Not if the people obey the clean your boat and trailer laws and if the continued campaign to educate and build awareness about AIS is effective! The Michigan Clean Boats Clean Waters, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Lake and Stream Associations, is one such program. They work to train local volunteers to bring the message of fighting AIS to communities. A Michigan State University Extension article outlines simple ways you can help prevent the spread of these invasive organisms.

We know that some weeds have “hitchhiked” between water bodies on watercraft and trailers. That makes the number one defense to keeping our lakes free of invasive organisms the inspection and washing of boats and trailers before and after each launch. The DEQ, in partnership Michigan State University Extension Michigan Lake Leaders Institute, is working to raise awareness about cleaning boats by scheduling visits at various lakes throughout Michigan to demonstrate the effectiveness of the boat power wash option.

Lake communities in Michigan are fortunate to have access to many resources that can assist with the development of informational campaigns and boat washing stations. There are several communities that have mobilized to fight the spread of AIS through installing boat wash stations at their public boat launches. Some are permanently constructed wash stations, while other lakes offer portable and mobile boat washes. Stations are managed by volunteers, paid staff or are self-wash.

Several lakes associations in Michigan were questioned and they indicated that the education of residents and visitors is critical to controlling the spread of AIS. Public education was shown to be a successful method in reducing spread of AIS. A variety of educational initiatives including public service announcements, presentations to community groups, one-on-one contact, signage at the launch sites along with distributing printed pamphlets are employed. Two lake associations indicated that having a township ordinance regarding boat washes also had a positive impact.

Ideally, all watercraft owners will want to “get onboard” with the Clean Boats Clean Waters efforts to keep Michigan’s lakes free from invasive species.

For more information about invasive aquatic plants contact me, MSU Extension educator. To learn more about invasive organisms and invasive aquatic plants contact Michigan State University Extension Natural Resources educators who are working across Michigan to provide aquatic invasive species educational programming and assistance. You can contact an educator through MSU Extension’s “Find an Expert” search tool using the keywords “Natural Resources Water Quality.”

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