Exotic has a decidedly negative connotation to environmental scientists. From their point of view exotic means an invasion of a species that destroys the habitat for native species.
As we begin the boating season the Connecticut River Watershed Council is asking all boaters to help protect the Connecticut River from invasions of exotic plants and animals. Boaters, whether power boaters, canoers or sail enthusiasts, have a special responsibility in protecting the aquatic habitat of the Connecticut River watershed.
Being responsible is not a difficult task for boaters: just think: Drain, Inspect, Wash, and Dry!
For those who fish, know where your bait came from, what species it is and whether or not it is a native to the body of water where you are fishing. The introduction of the wrong species of baitfish into a water body can have devastating effects on the resident fish; smelt in Lake Champlain is our latest invasion.
And we are faced with a potential invasion of an infectious virus, Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS), discovered just some 75 miles to the west of our watershed. VHS has the potential to kill fish by the thousands. The virus is spread by moving fish
When exotics establish themselves in a new environment they propagate more quickly than native species. Exotics do not face their usual predators and as with VHS our species are not resistant to new viruses.
In their uncontrolled explosions, exotics deny native species their usual habitat killing off the native flora and fauna. They also create problems for humans -- just ask anyone living on a waterbody where Eurasian milfoil or water chestnut has taken hold and choked their lake.
Two years ago, we discovered the invasive algae Didymosphenia geminata, better known as didymo or "rock snot" in the Connecticut River just below the Connecticut Lakes. Didymo has the potential to spread rapidly, destroy river bottom habitat and make our watershed rather unappetizing to fish or swim in.
Fishermen wearing felt bottom waders are the major risk of transporting this invasive to new water. Soak waders in hot soapy water for 20 minutes or completely dry them out before going into new waters.
Here in the Connecticut River watershed, boats are the biggest threat to importing or spreading invasive species. Care in preventing further spread of these infestations is the only tool we have at our disposal. There are no "fixes" once milfoil, zebra mussels, rock snot or other exotics are in our waters.
It does not matter if the waterbody is known to harbor exotics, act as though every place you launch contains these problem species. What should boaters be doing to protect the river? Think: Drain, Inspect, Wash and Dry!
Drain: Drain all bilge water, live wells; bait buckets, and any other water from your boat and equipment at the ramp as you leave a water body. Live bait should not be taken from one water body to another. Do not dump live bait into the water; the bait may be a non-native species to that waterbody.
Inspect: At the ramp during both launching and trailering, thoroughly inspect your boat's hull, drive unit, trim plates, trolling plates, prop guards, transducers, anchor and anchor rope, and trailer. Scrape off and trash any suspected mussels, however small. Remove all waterweeds hanging from boat or trailer.
Wash: Before launching your boat into uninfected waters, thoroughly flush the hull, drive unit, live wells and the pumping system, bilge, trailer, bait buckets, engine cooling water system, and other boat parts that got wet while in infested waters. Use a hard spray from a garden hose or tow the boat through a do-it-yourself carwash. Do not use chlorine bleach or other environmentally unsound washing solutions next to the shore.
Dry: Boats and trailers should be allowed to dry thoroughly in the sun for up to 4 days before being launched into uninfected waters. Hot water pumped through an engine's intake periodically is one method of preventing zebra mussel growth inside an engine's cooling system.
CRWC hopes boaters will be especially careful and protect our river from further invasions by exotics. Remember DIWD (pronounced dude): Drain, Inspect, Wash, and Dry!
David L. Deen is the river steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. CRWC is celebrating more than half a century as an articulate voice for the Connecticut River.