Wake boat ballast bags can harbor invasive species

Wake boats have gained in popularity in recent years. Great except that water skiers and wake boarders now may be spreading aquatic invasive species through ballast water.

Historically, discharged ballast water from ocean going ships has been a point source of pollution and a carrier of invasive species in the Great Lakes. Now, through the increased use of wake boats, it is a concern of inland lakes and streams. Wake boats that enter various inland surface water systems are potentially carriers of invasive species, too. Common organisms that get pumped into ballast systems are bacteria, algae, plankton, tiny pieces of plants and small mollusks. A primary example of this are Zebra mussels that were introduced into the Great Lakes and have since spread into the Mississippi River system and more.

Wake boats are a type of inboard motorboat. They are either designed for, or adapted for, water skiing and wake boarding sports. Wake boarding or “skurfing”, (combining water skiing and surfing), was originally considered for times when there were no waves on the ocean. It was soon realized that waves could be created on any body of water. Wake boats rely on additional ballast weight to help create the waves for this increasingly popular water sport. Ballast weight can be in the form of solid elements such as lead, steel, or concrete. However, more commonly ballast is water pumped and stored in flexible bags inside the hull of the boat. Some boats can pump and discharge to either or both sides of the boat depending upon set up. Weighting the boat on either side produces the kinds and size of waves that boat users wish to create.

Recreational wake boaters who travel from lake to lake and pump and discharge ballast water from their boats into different lakes contribute to the spread of aquatic invasive species in a similar manner. Boaters can help protect the environment by making sure that ballast bags are emptied between lakes and their pumps are flushed with clean (not lake) water. Blowing out and flushing motor and pump intakes for a few seconds after trailering your boat is an important way to help prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species on our inland lakes. Taking the extra few minutes to inspect, clean, drain, dry your boat and responsibly disposing of bait and other materials goes a long way to protecting Michigan’s inland lakes. Additionally, draining all water from your boat bilge, livewells and other containers complies with the Michigan Fisheries Order 245 protecting our fisheries resources form spreading fish diseases from lake to lake. By taking these steps, you are doing your part to help protect one of Michigan’s most valuable resources. Water.

For more information about aquatic invasive species contact Beth Clawson, 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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