This summer, TILT partnered with the St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (SLELO PRISM) to administer a watercraft inspection stewardship program throughout the region. Ten Stewards were hired and trained to educate the public about how to look for and remove aquatic invasive species from their boating and fishing equipment, and were stationed at a total of 20 boat launches throughout the region.
As part of a larger statewide effort, Boat Launch Stewards are one of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Aquatic Nuisance Species priorities, deemed essential workers by New York State, with funding provided from the Environmental Protection Fund.
This program is designed to educate the public on Clean, Drain, Dry protocols in an effort to prevent the spread of invasive species between water bodies, with the end goal being that boaters and fishermen are trained to inspect their vessels and equipment themselves when no stewards are present.
Boat Launch Stewards further TILT’s mission of conserving water quality in the Thousand Islands region. They serve as a front-line defense against aquatic invasive species, like Hydrilla, Eurasian Water Milfoil, and Zebra Mussels. Aquatic invasive species can be transported by vessels between water bodies, dramatically altering the ecological processes in the lake and thereby resulting in poor water quality and reduced biodiversity.
With boaters, the Stewards conduct a voluntary inspection and survey using a standardized protocol, engage in dialogue about invasive species, their impact, and how to take preventative measures to stop their spread, provide educational materials, and collect data that informs invasive species management throughout the state.
Launches that were covered by TILT-SLELO Stewards in TILT’s service area include Mary Street in Clayton, Cape Vincent, Three Mile Bay, Butterfield Lake, Millsite Lake, Grass Point State Park, Keewaydin State Park, and Wellesley Island State Park. Beyond that, we staffed Boat Launch Stewards at launches stretching from Massena to Oneida Lake.
As of mid-September, Stewards completed 10,228 surveys. 96% of boaters agreed to an inspection, so nearly 10,000 boaters were taught how to inspect their vessel for aquatic hitchhikers. Most inspections took place when boats or kayaks were launching. Inspections were completed on retrieving vessels when possible (when they returned to the launch).
Of boaters that were asked where they last launched, a majority had their boat in either the same waterbody or no waterbody in the past 2 weeks. However, 16% of boaters launched their vessel in a different waterbody, meaning that their risk of spreading invasive species from one waterbody to another was high. This demonstrates the vital role Boat Launch Stewards play in stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species.
TILT’s role in this program allowed us to drastically extend our reach beyond the region, sharing our message and ensuring that water quality is maintained in the River. As the St. Lawrence River serves as the outflow for all of the Great Lakes, it is important to prevent the spread of invasive species from all water bodies that flow into it.
While it was important to have Stewards stationed along the River in TILT’s service area, it is also vital to have Stewards disseminating information broadly. We are grateful for this partnership with SLELO PRISM and the hard work of all of our Boat Launch Stewards this season, and encourage boaters to remember to Clean, Drain, Dry your vessels to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.