Boaters can be damaging the lakes they vacation on without even knowing it.
People who take their boats, jet skis, and kayaks from lake to lake may be taking "aquatic hitchhikers" with them. Invasive species like zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, and starry stonewort can be introduced to new lakes and rivers by careless boaters. The weeds and animals crowd out native species and disrupt the ecosystem.
But keeping out invasive species can be simple.
"Just washing your boat will help prevent the spread from lake to lake," MSU Fisheries and Wildlife intern Sarah Plantrich said. She and intern Maggie Corcoran have traveled around Michigan this summer offering free boat washes and information about what people can do to stop the spread of invasive species.
"Some people have never even heard of an invasive species," Corcoran said. "We talk a lot to visitors from out of state who don't really know what the invasive species are or what they look like. They wouldn't really know how to spread them or how not to." She says most people want to do the right thing, they just don't know how important it is to clean boats between trips to different lakes.
Corcoran says removing plants and algae from the boat after taking it out of the water is a good start. To really get rid of all the larvae and microscopic organisms, though, she says boaters should rinse the outside of the boat and trailer with a 10 percent bleach solution, and all bilge and hold water tanks with a 5 percent bleach solution. She says you can also take the boat through a car wash, or let it dry out in the sun for five days to kill invasive species.
"They're easier to prevent than you think," Plantrich said. And prevention is key. Getting rid of invasive species once they've taken hold of a lake is difficult and expensive.
"There's not a whole lot you can do," Plantrich said of removing weeds and zebra mussels. "It's very costly to use chemicals, and a lot of people are kind of wary about putting chemicals in the lake." It's possible to kill the weeds by blocking sunlight to the plants with mats, but that's also an expensive procedure.
Steven Tackett lives on Clark Lake in Jackson, where zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil have already invaded. "They came to each of the homeowners and asked if we'd be willing to pay a little extra to eradicate the weed," Tackett said. "We said, 'Absolutely.'"
He says Clark Lake is beautiful and clear now, and he wants to keep it that way. "We don't want those weeds in the lake," he said. "They clog up the bottom and before you know it, you don't have any water. All you have is weeds."