This summer I was given the incredible opportunity to work on the brand new Finger Lakes Institute Watercraft Steward Program which is an effort focused on preventing the spread and introduction of invasive species and educating the public on the issue throughout the Finger Lakes region and on Lake Ontario. My specific role in the program included acting as a coordinator for the stewards, maintaining the program blog, and collecting and analyzing data that was initially collected by the stewards. As a William Smith Student working towards a degree focused in Environmental Policy, the watercraft steward program provided solid experience and insight into the nature and challenges of environmental policy on a local and regional level.
An article describing the workings of the Watercraft Steward Program and the current invasive species legislative efforts was included in the Finger Lakes Institute’s July Newsletter. In essence, the Watercraft Steward Program placed trained individuals at launches throughout the Finger Lakes and on Lake Ontario throughout the summer beginning in late May. The occupied launches were on the seven eastern Finger Lakes (Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, and Otisco), and two southern Lake Ontario bays (Sodus bay and Little Sodus bay). The stewards worked five days each week at the launches cleaning people’s boats of any attached weeds or other organisms, and keeping a special eye out for invasive species. Permission from boaters was required for all inspections as there does not currently exist any legislation requiring people to have their boats inspected for invasive species. In addition to visual inspections, the stewards provided verbal education and educational materials to the boaters who were interested. Although not all people allowed their boats to be inspected, the vast majority did, and even those who did not became more aware of the issue via the presence of the steward in itself. In addition to inspecting boats and educating boaters at launches, the stewards attended various local events in order to conduct further public outreach and education.
The stewards also collected data for each boat that entered and exited the launches, and this data was submitted daily to the Finger Lakes Institute for analysis. This data can be used to track several different trends which can aid in the placement of watercraft stewards in future program efforts and also help to gauge the methods and places by and from which invasive species are most likely spread in the instances that they are spread. The Table below shows a summarized analysis of data collected at seven different launch sites between May 24th and July 31st 2012. Over 18,000 lake users on over 7,000 boats came into contact with an FLI Watercraft Steward during this time period alone (the program continues through the end of boating season in October) and at only seven of the seventeen launches that were sporadically occupied throughout the season. Approximately 96.1 percent of the 7,134 boats were licensed in New York State, so the immediate citizen impact was majorly within New York. Only 14.6 percent of the 7,134 total boats were found to be carrying aquatic plants or other organisms, and they were not all invasive plants. This data does not reflect the entire boating season and therefore the FLI Watercraft Steward Program has reached an even greater number of people since the end of July. These numbers are encouraging and demonstrate a significant and necessary presence reminding lake users to care responsibly for their lakes via the cleaning of their watercrafts.