Water Hobbies and Invasive Species

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Imagine walking into a daycare facility to pick up your child. Without realizing it, you place your hand on a table, or any of the other impure surfaces.  Your hand, then, collects thousands of little germs from the contaminated facility.  After you greet your little one with a loving, but unfortunate exchange of more germs, you jump in your car and head home.  When you get home, you are so relieved to be there after such a long day that you forget to wash your hands.  As a result, all of those germs that attached themselves to you and your little one have migrated to your home.  From there, we all know what happens.

This is a real-world scenario that most of us can understand, even if we have never been to a daycare and do not have kids.  We all know how easily germs spread.  They quickly move through the world by attaching themselves to one person and finding their way onto others.  We pay a lot of attention to this issue as a society because we can immediately experience how it affects us.  We get sick, and we take note of that quickly.  However, when “germs” spread through the environment as invasive species, infecting our rivers, lakes, and oceans, we take little note because we cannot immediately recognized the harm that is being done.  In other words, we cannot see the sickness that the environment is experiencing from these invasive species because the symptoms do not show as quickly as the fevers that cripple our own lives.

Invasive Water Plants

Invasive Water Plants

The sickness created by these environmental germs, however, is a cancerous problem.  A quick Google search on invasive species will yield countless facts that show the alarming damage that invasive species have on the environment.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an especially informative brochure that you can access here.  It was there that I was startled to learn that the “Estimated damage and control costs of aquatic and terrestrial invasive species in the U.S. alone amount to more than $137 billion annually. This is more than the combined total of all other natural disasters. ” (www.habitat.noaa.gov). You don’t see this on the news though, do you?

By now, you might be asking yourself why this is any of your concern.  After all, you cannot possibly be responsible for invasive species spreading from one body of water to another, right?  Think again. Some of your personal habits might be helping these germs spread, especially if you are an angler or a boater.

While most anglers, boaters, and water-lovers that I know are typically on the more environmentally friendly side of the spectrum, many invasive species spread as a result of their respective hobby.  This assertion might upset some of these populations because they are the kind of people who love being outside in nature; it is their playground and there is probably nowhere else in the world many of these naturalist would rather be. It is safe to say, then, that they would not knowingly contribute to the problem.  Nevertheless, many anglers, boaters, and water-lovers engage in hobbies that, unknown to them, lead to invasive germ spreading.

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Are your water habits a dangerous vessel for environmental germs?

How do anglers, boaters, and other water-lovers spread invasive species?

Just like the daycare example I provided in the first paragraph, a person who makes his or her hobby in or around a body of water can unknowingly (or knowingly) collect invasive germs.  If care is not taken to properly disinfect the materials that were used during the previous water escapade, then they can remain on the gear until the person uses it again.  These pesky environmental germs will stay on that gear until the user moves to the next body of water. Then, when their gear comes in contact with the new body of water, the invasive germs have successfully migrated.  With this unintended action, invasive species may quickly take over the new water and choke out its ecosystem.

Prevention:  How to practice eco-friendly angling, boating, and other water activities

With people becoming more aware of the invasive species epidemic, there is a growing draw for individuals who frequent the water to use eco-friendly angling and boating techniques.  People who who love the water are learning that there are simple habits they can adopt to protect the water they love.  If you are an angler or a boater, and you are looking to learn more about how to prevent the spread of invasive species, I strongly suggest you click the following link.  This website, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is a wonderful springboard to learn more about aquatic hitchhikers and what you as a water enthusiast can do to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Briefly, whether you are a boater, fisher, or any other water-enthusiast, do the following during and after each experience.  It will help ensure that you are not adding to the already devastating problem:

1.  Avoid aquatic plants – I know, anglers, that bass like to hang out in the weeds.  It does not mean you have to run your boat through the weeds.  When you do, you increase your chance of dragging aquatic hitchhikers with you, thus spreading them to other bodies of water.  Use your skill to carefully navigate the blankets of aquatic vegetation.

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Stay out of the weeds!

2.  Clean your gear – Clean it thoroughly.  Part of your responsibility as an angler or a boater is to make sure you are not bringing germs with you from one spot to the next.  It is like washing your hands. After each time you use your gear, inspect it for signs of plants, mud, debris, and anything else that is not part of the gear.  Be considerate and take the time to remove these materials.  Otherwise, you are likely bringing hitchhikers along with you.  Gear may include, but is obviously not limited to: fishing poles, waiters, fishing nets, fishing tackle, bait buckets, fish wells, fish stringers, boat surfaces, boat motors, boat trailers, and anything else that comes in contact with the water.  For anything that has any signs of foreign material, get rid of the foreign material by putting it into the garbage.  Then, disinfect the surfaces and gear with an environmentally friendly cleaner.

Scrub Your Gear

Scrub Your Gear

3.  Let all surfaces and gear dry thoroughly.  I get that some of you frequent the water everyday and these eco practices may seem daunting.  If you do use water sources every day, however, it is all the more reason for you to make sure you are not spreading invasive germs. Do you really want to infect your favorite spot? Use common sense.  Make sure your boats and your gear is dried thoroughly before using it in a different body of water. Let it dry in the sun if possible.  Whatever you do, just make sure you are not bringing water from one body of water to another.  As you might imagine, this is a perfect way for hitchhikers to travel.

Clean everything so that it looks just like it did before your activity.

Clean everything so that it looks just like it did before your activity.

There are many ways a water enthusiast can contribute to a greener planet.  Like anything else, however, it typically requires small adjustments to individual habits.  Taking care to prevent the spread of invasive species through eco-friendly angling and boating is just one small way an individual person can put a dent in a massive problem.  Whether you boat, fish, or just wander on the shores of your favorite river or lake, you can help by preventing the spread of noxious invasive species.  Just like you expect people to wash their hands after being in contaminated environments such as daycares, take care to rid yourself and your gear of the potentially dangerous water hitchhikers.  These germs are contagious, and if you do not do anything to stop them, they will spread, through your gear, from one body of water to the next, bringing with them an infectious and destructive force that will eliminate biodiversity from your favorite body of water.

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