Waterway Invasive Introductions: By Boat

An invasive species is one that is introduced to areas that are not part of its natural range, where it may not have any natural enemies to keep its population in check. Invasive plants and animals can wreak havoc on natural areas, causing economic, environmental and even human health impacts. Invasive species are especially disruptive and prevalent in aquatic environments because of how easily they are able to spread through connected watersheds. Often, it’s humans who accidentally transport and introduce invasive species into new environments.

Recreational boating in unconnected waterways is one way that invasive species are spread to new places. Bivalves such as zebra mussels and aquatic plants such as milfoil can latch onto or get snagged on boat hulls, anchors, fishing gear, diving equipment or any other surface that spends extended periods of time in the water. Plant and animal larvae are commonly found in bilge water or engine water and can easily be discharged in very different locations from where they were picked up. Green crabs are able to survive in larval form for 90 days, making it likely that they could go unnoticed in between boating trips.  Boat trailers can sometimes act as carriers after only brief contact with the water.

Viewer Tip: When transporting boats or any other gear from one body of water to another (or even to store on land before transporting at a later date), wash surfaces that have been in contact with the water. For boats that were in contact with the water for longer periods of time, check for mussels, barnacles and algae that may have grown on the hull and scrape off all remnants before returning the boat to any water source. It only takes a small amount of water to transport an invasive plant or animal that could lead to irreparable change.

By learning more about invasive species in your area, you can help control their spread and protect the rivers, lakes and oceans near you. Find out more about invasive species.

Image courtesy of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

(Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Pathways for Invasive Species Introduction.”  http://water.epa.gov/type/oceb/habitat/pathways.cfm; Emily Darbyson1, Andrea Locke2*, John Mark Hanson2 and J. H. Martin Willison1. “Marine boating habits and the potential for spread of invasive species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”  Aquatic Invasions (2009) Volume 4, Issue 1: 87-94, http://aquaticinvasions.net/2009/AI_2009_4_1_Darbyson_etal.pdf)

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