We’re continuing our celebration of Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month with a few words from Cathy McGlynn, coordinator of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, on how invasive species have changed our aquatic ecosystems.
I am your local co-coordinator of the Clean Boats Crew, an aquatic invasive species education and outreach campaign that is a collaboration of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership. My colleagues and I care very much about protecting aquatic ecosystems, and we know the value of prevention when it comes to invasion.
I haven’t always lived in the Chicago region. Once upon a time, I was a field biologist who lived in the Hudson River Valley and spent countless summer days canoeing to my research sites in the morning mist on the majestic Hudson River while being very careful to avoid tugboats and their wakes. I surveyed marsh birds and small mammals to see how invasive plants were impacting them. It turned out that native birds with special requirements, such as the marsh wren, were losing their nesting habitat to the invasive common reed. In between sites, I battled my way through beds of water chestnut, an aquatic invasive plant that has not yet been found in the Chicago area. I helped to survey and monitor native aquatic plants on the river with a team of volunteer kayakers because these plants provide important habitat for young fish, crabs, and insects and needed to be tracked. I was always careful not to walk around barefoot on the river’s beaches to avoid cutting my feet on zebra mussel shells or stepping on the barbed fruits of the water chestnut. During the time before I moved to this region, rock snot and Chinese mitten crab were starting to threaten the Hudson River and its wetlands.
After writing all of this, I realize that I don’t know a time, in my life anyway, that invasive plants and animals weren’t arriving and changing the Hudson River ecosystem.
Based on what I have learned in the five years I have been living near Lake Michigan, it seems that a similar history has unfolded for this amazing water body. I often wonder what it would be like if all invasions were prevented or ended upon arrival. I imagine a completely successful aquatic invasive species education and outreach program. The perfectly-executed Clean Boats Crew with 100 percent support from everyone with whom we’ve ever interacted and all the people with whom those anglers, boaters, and recreational water users communicated.
I imagine what Lake Michigan would look like and what creatures would be found there. I imagine a lake that does not have waters which have been filtered clean by zebra and quagga mussels and are clear and blue like the Caribbean. Rather I picture darker, murkier waters that contain all the tiny plants and animals that make up the phytoplankton and zooplankton that feed native fish and mussels.
In this imaginary world, no one in the entire Great Lakes region is worried about the arrival of Asian carp and the lamprey eel has stayed in the Atlantic Ocean. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia is not found in any fish throughout the lake. And round goby has never out-competed sculpin and logperch. Anglers happily fish native and non-invasive stocked fish and boaters readily remove plants and animals from their boats, drain their bilges and bait buckets, and dry their vehicles for five days because that is what needs to be done to protect our precious aquatic resources.
I imagine people stopping by our Clean Boats Crew booths at marinas and fishing tournaments in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. Fortunately, that at least can become reality later this month.
With the end of Chicago’s boating season right around the corner, we thought this would be a good time look back at this year’s progress making boating and harbor activities more environmentally friendly.
The Illinois Clean Marina Program launched last year with one certified marina, 31st Street Harbor. This year, five new harbors joined the ranks by implementing a series of best management practices, bringing the state total to six in just its first year. Two more, North Point Marina and Diversey Harbor have also pledged to implement these same practices.
Clean boating includes preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). It was a banner year for Clean Boats Crew, an outreach effort that gives boaters, anglers, and others the information they need to stop the spread of AIS. During its four-year tenure, the volunteer program has spread the word about AIS prevention to more than 8,000 recreational water users in Illinois and Indiana, with more than 3,500 people reached this year alone.
The idea behind Clean Boats Crew is simple. Volunteers visit boat ramps and docks during the height of the boating season to talk with boaters, anglers, and other recreational water users about AIS and to demonstrate cleaning techniques that can help stop their spread. This year, site leaders and volunteers were onsite at Chicago’s Burnham and Diversey harbors, as well as Illinois’s Chain O’ Lakes and North Point Marina and Indiana’s East Chicago and Portage marinas.
In Illinois, site leaders and volunteers introduced water users to three simple steps at the heart of the prevention campaign Be a Hero – Transport Zero™:
–Remove plants, animals, and mud from all equipment
–Drain all water from your boat and gear
–Dry everything thoroughly with a towel
With the season over, IISG and the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, co-organizers of the Clean Boats Crew program, have turned their sights to next year and are looking for others to join the effort.
Aquatic invaders come in a number of shapes, sizes, and varieties, and aren’t limited to mussels or fish. In addition to our “Be A Hero – Transport Zero” campaign asking boaters and water users to be on the lookout for invasive species, IISG has helped fund “Hydrilla Hunt!,” a program to keep this invasive plant from overtaking Illinois’ waters.
Hydrilla verticillata, commonly known as “hydrilla,” is an aquatic invasive “superweed” – a non-native plant that can grow quickly in waterways and cause serious environmental and economic damages. But before this species takes over, Illinois partners are asking water lovers for their help in preventing hydrilla’s spread.
“Recognized as one of the world’s worst weeds, hydrilla can grow an inch per day and form dense mats of vegetation at the water surface. Within the past few years, hydrilla has been discovered in Wisconsin and Indiana and it is expected to arrive in Illinois very soon. Our desirable native aquatic plants, sport fishing, native wildlife, waterfront property values, and recreational uses might all be seriously impacted.
‘Early detection of hydrilla could save Illinois millions of dollars in control costs,’ noted Cathy McGlynn, coordinator for the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP). ‘Experience from other states shows that once a waterway becomes infested with hydrilla, it’s nearly impossible to control. Our hope in Illinois is to identify the plant at a very early stage when populations are still small enough to eradicate and manage,’ added McGlynn.”
Because this species can spread so quickly, the “Hydrilla Hunt!” program is asking boaters, fishermen, swimmers, sailors, and more to help locate it and notify them via e-mail with photos if possible.