Invasive Species Prevention - Sailors for the Sea

Invasive Species Prevention

Boaters can take simple precautions to prevent non-native plants and animals from spreading and causing harm to new habitats and native species.

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Aquatic invasive species (also called exotic or non-native) are plants and animals that invade an ecosystem where they don’t belong. If the invasive species has no natural predators in its new environment, its population can grow unchecked. Their abundance causes damage as they can consume native species, compete for food and space, or introduce disease. Some can even damage our boats! Once they’re established, an invasive species is almost impossible to eradicate.

invasive species, nonnative, invasives

Negative impacts:

  • Reduce game fish populations
  • Affect local economies of water-dependent communities
  • Damage boat engines and seize steering equipment
  • Reduce native species populations
  • Degrade ecosystems
  • Affect human health
  • Reduce property values

How do they ‘move’?

Larger ships transport invasive species in their ballast water, while fouling organisms such as barnacles, seaweeds and mussels can move from one location to another by hitching a ride on your boat, on items you use in the water and even your clothes.

invasive species, trailer, boat

They also attach themselves to the millions of tons of plastics and other debris that floats with ocean currents around the globe.

How can you help?

The only way to stop an invasive species from causing harm is to prevent them from entering the environment in the first place. Any person enjoying a recreational activity in or on the water can play a key role in preventing the spread of invasive species.

1. Learn to identify invasive species in your area and report sightings to the proper authorities. Check these links to learn which invasives are near you:

2. Prevent and help clean up pollution on land and in the water.

3. Obey all related laws and educate others about the impacts of invasive species.

It’s important for boaters to take extra care and properly clean their boats and equipment after each use, as invasive species can hide in common places, including the motor transom, livewell, anchor rope, boat hull, trailer and your clothes.

Tips for boaters:

  • Remove all visible vegetation from your boat, propeller, anchor, trailer and any other equipment that was in the water.
  • Drain and flush the motor, livewell, bilge and transom wells with hot water.
  • Spray your boat and trailer with high-pressure water and then rinse with hot water.
  • Dry your boat and equipment for at least 5 days before entering a different body of water.
  • Larger vessels that spend months or longer in the water likely need to coat their hulls in antifouling paint. For eco-friendly options see Bottom Paint.

Tips for SCUBA divers and snorkelers:

  • Inspect equipment for plants, mud or animals and remove any before you leave the area.
  • Drain water from the buoyancy compensator, regulator, tank boot and any other equipment that holds water.
  • Wash your suit and all equipment in hot water and dry completely.

scuba diving, invasive species

Tips for fishers:

  • Know and observe all live bait collection laws in your area.
  • Never release live bait into a different body of water.
  • Thoroughly wash and dry all fishing tackle, buckets, nets, waders, etc. after each use.
  • Report any invasive species that you see or catch to the proper authorities.

Case Studies:

Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha)

If you boat in freshwater lakes and rivers, you may be familiar with this invasive mollusk. One of the major concerns regarding zebra mussels is the ease at which it spreads. Native to the Black and Caspian Sea, zebra mussels were first introduced into North America in the ballast water of ocean-going vessels, and have continued to spread to numerous lakes by overland transport, on hulls, anchors and trailers. They are also transported by divers’ wetsuits, in scientific sampling equipment and fishing gear.

invasive species, zebra mussels, prop

Zebra mussels cause significant harm to freshwater ecosystems by outcompeting native species for food and space and changing the whole ecology of the body of water. They can also clog water intakes and other pipes, and attach themselves to boat motors, hulls and docks.

European Water Chestnut (Trapa natans)

This invasive aquatic plant was released inadvertently by gardners into the waters of the Northeast in the late 1800s. The water chestnut’s native range includes Europe, Asia and Africa, but is now spreading in waters throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.

invasive species, water chestnut

The water chestnut forms nearly impenetrable floating mats of vegetation, which can be a hazard for boaters. The plant also blocks light penetration into the water and outcompetes native aquatic vegetation.

Lionfish (Pterois volitans, Pterois miles)

Lionfish are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific and were introduced into the Atlantic Ocean through the U.S. aquarium trade. These voracious predators, with virtually no natural enemies, are decimating native coral reef fish populations. You are likely to see these fish if you’re vacationing in the Caribbean.

invasive species, lion fish, coral reefs

Local removal efforts can significantly reduce lionfish densities. And they are edible and delicious! However, they have venom glands on most of their spines, so should be handled with care. NOAA recommends treating a puncture wound by immersing the wound area in hot (not scalding) water for 30-90 minutes and seeking medical attention as soon as possible. To learn more check out Invasive Lionfish Web Portal and our Ocean Watch article, The Lionfish Invasion!

Did you know?

There are over 4,500 species of invasive plants and animals that have established populations in the United States, and this number increases yearly. Invasive species put significant pressure on about 42% of threatened and endangered species in the United States, and also have a significant human impact costing nearly $120 billion per year (Cornell University).

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Learn more about invasive species prevention and other Green Boating topics in our video series.