Education is Key: The Start of a New Watercraft Steward Season
By: Shanty Hawke, Watercraft Steward Program Coordinator
What is a watercraft steward? For those who don’t know, watercraft stewards are stationed at boat launches throughout the region to provide education on preventing the spread or introduction of aquatic invasive species (AIS). The main goal of the Finger Lakes Institute’s Watercraft Steward Program is to educate you, the recreational boater, on preventing the spread of AIS while providing inspection assistance for recreational boaters at boat launches around the Finger Lakes . We know a lot of you see us each year at the boat launches, and you know exactly what to expect as we approach you when getting ready to launch for your first time or twentieth time this season. However, there are some people who haven’t had an opportunity to engage in conversation with a steward quite yet, which is the exact reason we keep coming back!
“The general desire to give back to this region that has sustained my physical and emotional wellbeing for a lifetime has inspired me to become a steward.” – Nicholas Aiezza, Watercraft Steward @ Long Point State Park, Cayuga NY
The Finger Lakes Institute’s Watercraft Steward Program has geared up for our 7th consecutive season! This year 13 Finger Lakes Institute Stewards, along with 2 coordinators are already hard at work. Our goal is to have 24 stewards before the end of the season at nine of eleven Finger Lakes, the Erie Canal, and parts of Lake Ontario. The season began with a two day training, led by Sam Beck-Andersen, Watercraft Steward Program Manager, held at the FLI, which is part Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. During the first day of training the stewards were introduced to Dr. Lisa Cleckner, director of the Institute, Hilary Mosher, Finger Lakes-Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) Coordinator, and Patty Wakefield-Brown, Invasive Species Outreach and Volunteer Specialist. Each FLI staff member that took part in the training brought something new to the table for the stewards, ranging from their backgrounds, current projects they are undergoing, new technologies, volunteer opportunities, and of course, their inspirations and passions. Each individual stressed the importance of one specific topic: education. Education is undoubtedly the most important factor of AIS management!
“I am excited to be working at the Finger Lakes Institute, and making a difference in the Finger Lakes by helping to stop the spread of invasive species through educating boaters, and the public!” –Shaina Babcock, Watercraft Steward @ Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park, Canandaigua, NY
The educational component is what allows the watercraft steward program, and other similar programs, to continue to garner support. The reason for this is effectively described by the invasion curve, which relates time to the area infested by an invasive species, and the control costs associated with treatment of an invasive species. As time and area infested increases, so does the control costs. For many invasive species already present the Finger Lakes such as zebra mussels or Eurasian watermilfoil, the area infested over a long period of time has risen to points that would be classified by the right side of the curve. Controlling infestations such as these, as demonstrated by the curve, becomes very expensive to the point where costs greatly outweigh the potential benefits. At this point, management options are limited to long-term plans and the protection of assets – eradication isn’t even an option any more. Species such as Hydrilla are still at the left end of the curve for the Finger Lakes. With only a small area infested in Cayuga Lake, and a short amount of time passed since the initial infestation, containment, eradication, and even prevention are still viable options. This is where watercraft stewards come in. By providing watercraft stewards, who educate recreational boaters about specific invasive species that are contained within a waterbody we can actively prevent the spread of these dangerous invasive species to unaffected waterbodies at a relatively low cost.
On day 2, the stewards took a trip to Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park to meet Al Kraus, of the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association and preform mock boat inspections. He stressed the importance of AIS prevention, and the impacts invasive species have on the environment. The stewards were also paid a visit by New York State Senator, Pam Helming, whose husband happily allowed them to use their boat for practice inspections. Helming spoke with the stewards about how incredibly important their jobs are in preventing the spread of AIS, and the effects invasives have on water quality. She also stressed the importance of keeping lakes clean for recreational purposes we all take part in and love!
“The Watercraft Steward Program was the perfect opportunity to combine my love of the outdoors with my love of the Finger Lakes Region.” –Ben Myers, Watercraft Steward @ Woodville Boat Launch, Naples NY
A steward is truly the first line of defense against invasive species, and you can be too! As mentioned before, our goal is to educate. So, as your families grow, and your little ones grow too, the doors are open for you to become an educator in a number of ways. It’s natural to teach your children to wear a life jacket on a boat along with other boater’s safety precautions. Why not include tips on how to prevent the spread of AIS! But don’t just stop at “how”, teach them why! If invasives continue to make appearances in our ecosystem, we could potentially lose our native species, habitats can degrade, and recreational opportunities could be lost. You don’t have to be a steward to spread awareness of AIS. The tools you need are simple…knowledge, power, and the opportunity to start a conversation! The stewards of our 7th season are, without question, an aspiring, unique group of individuals. They range in backgrounds from geological and mechanical engineering, to biochemistry, environmental science, and advanced English.
“I wanted to work in the environmental field and connect with the community to invest in their watershed.” –Tessa Artruc, Watercraft Steward @ Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park, Canandaigua,
Each year we look forward to boaters getting out on the lakes and enjoying themselves, just as much as we love meeting the new folks and educating them on invasive species and proper boat cleaning methods. Yes, we typically ask the same sort of questions each year, but it’s important for us to do so! One thing we love most is the conversation it sparks. We are educators! And we want you to know the proper safety precautions you can use to prevent the spread of AIS in the Finger Lakes. Therefore, we hope the conversation, and shared passion to protect these beautiful waters, is something you, yes YOU, can pass along to others.
“My skills of interacting with people in one on one conversations have greatly improved” –Ryan Hogan, Watercraft Steward @ Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park, Canandaigua, NY
Start a chain reaction. You can make a difference. Educate the people you know, and even the ones you don’t! Having an appetite to educate others is one of the most important steps of saving our ecosystems from the effects of aquatic invasive species, and loss of recreational opportunities we all love! So, as we continue to educate you, please use the opportunity to take the next step and pass on your knowledge for generations to come.