Partnering to protect our local and regional waterbodies from the threat of invasive species, the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) and the St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (SLELO PRISM) are working together to administer a watercraft inspection stewardship program throughout the SLELO region.
In 2020, 10 stewards were employed to cover nearly 30 launches across the region, inspecting 12,455 watercraft and preventing 2,222 species from being transported by these watercraft into new waterbodies. This region-wide program expansion increased coverage and enhanced the already strong partnership between SLELO PRISM and TILT. We are excited to announce that this program will be extended into Summer 2021, with stewards working at boat launches from Memorial Day to Labor Day and beyond.
As part of a greater statewide effort, Watercraft Inspection Stewards are one of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Aquatic Nuisance Species priorities, who are 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 of having boaters and fishermen trained to inspect their vessels and equipment themselves, when no stewards are present.
Watercraft Inspection 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 such as Hydrilla, Eurasian Water Milfoil, and Zebra Mussels. Aquatic invasive species that are transported by vessels between water bodies can dramatically alter the ecological processes in the lake, and can result in poor water quality, reduced biodiversity, thereby directly impacting a variety of outdoor recreational activities.
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. In addition, Stewards provide educational materials, and collect data that informs invasive species management throughout the state.
Launches that were covered by TILT-SLELO Stewards in the Thousand Islands region 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 Watercraft Inspection Stewards at launches that stretched from Massena to Oneida Lake.
The 2020 steward program operated during the busy Memorial Day Weekend and continued to the weekend prior to U.S. Indigenous Peoples’ Day (September 7th). In total, 27 launches were staffed for 697 shifts, totaling 6,001 hours. During this time, stewards conducted 10,598 surveys with 95.6% of boaters agreeing to the voluntary inspection.
The number of visitors at each site varied depending on weather, typical launch use, and COVID-19. The Stewards engaged 27,375 people, many of whom received educational materials while the Stewards inspected 12,455 watercraft. In instances when a group had multiple watercraft, for example a group of three kayakers, one survey was collected but each of the three watercraft were inspected. The busiest launches in 2020 were Butterfield Lake, Cape Vincent, Lake Bonaparte, and North Sandy Pond. Lake Bonaparte averaged 34 surveys per day while the other three launches averaged 21-22 surveys per day.
TILT’s role in this program allows us to drastically extend our reach throughout the region, sharing our conservation message and helping to ensure that water quality is protected in the River and beyond. Since 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’s important to have Stewards stationed along the River in TILT’s service area, it is also vital to have Stewards disseminating information as broadly as possible. We are grateful for the partnership with SLELO PRISM, and for the hard work of all of our Watercraft Inspection Stewards who encourage boaters to remember to “Clean, Drain, Dry” their vessels, to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.
TILT and SLELO PRISM look forward to continuing this partnership and initiative into the next boating season, and we remain committed to preventing and slowing the spread of AIS into and out of our region.
Even as the pandemic surged, our Stewards were able to communicate with nearly 30,000 people, to explain the importance of slowing the spread of invasive species. For 2021, we plan to improve steward training, outreach, and professional development, using detailed employee feedback and information collected during the season. Both TILT and SLELO PRISM are appreciative of the continued support of partnering organizations, agencies, municipalities, and other stakeholders, all of whom play a role in protecting the lands and waters on which all life depends.
Learn more about the Watercraft Inspection Steward Program:
Read the full 2020 WISP Report: https://www.sleloinvasives.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2020-Watercraft-Inspection-Steward-Program-Final-Report.pdf
If you are interested in becoming a watercraft inspection steward this season, visit https://tilandtrust.org/careers/current-opportunities/watercraft-inspection-steward for the job description and application details.
By: Alaina Young (TILT) and Brittney Rogers (SLELO PRISM)
Aliana Young serves as TILT's Education and Outreach Coordinator. Aliana holds a B.S. in Biology from Lafayette College and a Master’s of Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. She comes to TILT with experience in environmental education, working as a dolphin tour guide in the Outer Banks of NC, an interpreter at a PA zoo, and most recently as a member of Duke Marine Lab’s Community Science Initiative, where she developed lesson plans on water quality and engaged elementary students in a year-long program on marine debris.
Brittney Rogers is the Aquatic Restoration and Resiliency Coordinator at the St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Region Invasive Species Management. She holds a Master of Science from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from SUNY Oswego and brings with her extensive experience in aquatic invasive species identification and management and is one of the pioneers in New York States Watercraft Inspection Steward Program.
Note: Versions of this article were first published in the Thousand Islands Sun and the TILT Reflections, newsletter. TI Life is pleased to promote this news on both sides of the International Border, as watercraft inspection stewards serve as a front-line defense against aquatic invasive species such as Hydrilla, Eurasian Water Milfoil, and Zebra Mussels transported by vessels to inland rivers and lakes.
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