Skip navigation links

Aug. 4, 2014

Stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species in Michigan

Since mid-May, two MSU students, along with Jo Latimore, outreach specialist in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, have traveled to lakes throughout Michigan to focus on stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species.

With funding from the U.S. Forest Service and a boat wash unit provided by the Department of Environmental Quality, they have traveled to at least 15 boat launch locations across Michigan that do not have a boat wash facility nearby.

The boat washing team has been to lakes in southern Michigan and as far north as Torch Lake.

Aquatic invasive species in all lakes can out-compete the native species in the same niche. Aquatic invasive species that are common in Michigan lakes include zebra mussels, Eurasian milfoil, purple loosestrife and common reed.

Zebra mussels have been linked to food web disruptions and blooms of microsystis, a blue-green algae with toxic properties. Eurasian milfoil forms thick mats of vegetation at the water’s surface that block sunlight for native plants. Purple loosestrife and common reed spread quickly and crowd out existing vegetation, causing a decline in the diversity of native plants.

The spread of aquatic invasive species occurs primarily through boats, trailers and fishing gear. The job of the trailer-mounted boat wash unit is to remove all invasive organisms so they are not carried to or from another lake.

“It’s pretty easy to use,” Latimore said. “It’s basically just a pressure-washer that heats the water to about 140 degrees, which has been shown, through research, to be enough to kill and remove most aquatic invasive organisms.”

Fisheries and wildlife junior Mike Guthard explained what they look for while washing boats.

“First we pick off any plants that are hanging off of the trailer or the boat, usually around the propeller,” Guthard said. “We spray everything down, but we look for a lot of mud or things that aren’t suppose to be there and clearly could have come from the lake.”

President of the Lake Lansing Property Owners Association, Tim McCarthy, said he was happy to see the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife bringing attention to the importance of boat washing.

“The power wash is a very vital item that should be used at lakes around Michigan because it’s exacerbating the problem if we’re just taking the invasive species from lake to lake,” McCarthy said.

Latimore said that along with boat washing, they work with local lake associations, property owners groups, fishing tournaments and watershed groups to engage the local community in stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species.

“It’s one thing for us to show up, wash some boats, talk to some boaters and then leave,” Latimore said. “It’s even more important that we get interest of the local community because they’ll continue that educational effort.”

By: Katie Stiefel