On July 29, watercraft inspectors inspected a pair of personal watercraft attempting to launch at the State boat launch on Upper Saranac Lake, subsequently detecting and removing a strand of hydrilla (water thyme, or Hydrilla verticillata), a fast-growing invasive aquatic plant currently established in several New York lakes. This is the first confirmed instance of hydrilla detected in the history of the Adirondack Park’s aquatic invasive species prevention efforts.
According to lake stewards, the watercraft on the trailer carrying hydrilla had both been sealed by lake stewards from the Lake George Park Commission, indicating they had recently passed an invasive species inspection.
On some Adirondack lakes stewards perform boat and trailer inspections in an effort to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Many boat launches however, including those operated by the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC), remain largely un-staffed, or inadequately equipped, and often rely on poorly paid student labor. Most DEC boat launches in the Adirondacks remain open when stewards are not present.
Once introduced, hydrilla can grow at fast rates – up to an inch per day – and forms floating mats that are so dense they block sunlight, allowing the invasive plants to outcompete native vegetation. These dense mats can also completely block recreational activities such as boating and swimming.
An economic impact study commissioned by the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP) estimates that if hydrilla were allowed to establish and spread throughout the Adirondacks, it could result in losses of $6.65 to $9.5 million annually in direct visitor spending. Since 2011, a multi-million dollar control effort has been underway on Cayuga Lake alone. Other states, such as Florida, are spending tens of millions of dollars annually on hydrilla control.
In the process of the watercraft inspection, stewards said they found a small strand of hydrilla draped over the rear beam of the trailer, near the trailer’s wheel well. When asked, the boat owner reported that he had used the watercraft last in Maryland’s Potomac River, where hydrilla is present. The inspectors initially thought the organism was native elodea, but further examination at Paul Smith’s College’s Adirondack Watershed Institute confirmed the approximately twelve-inch strand was hydrilla.
According to an announcement sent to the press, the owners stated that they had stopped and been inspected at a Lake George Park Commission inspection station near the Northway.
The Saranac Inn boat launch inspection station is one of only 60 locations where watercraft stewards perform boat inspections – across a region that includes 3,000 lakes and ponds, and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams – as part of the NYSDEC-funded Adirondack AIS Prevention Program. The Adirondack Region AIS Prevention Program has only 16 decontamination stations.
The public can learn about the free network of AIS spread prevention locations and resources here.
The Saranac Inn watercraft inspection station is funded by a partnership including New York State, the Upper Saranac Foundation, The Cloudsplitter Foundation, and the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
Photos, from above: Hydrilla in Cayuga Lake Inlet, courtesy Bob Johnson, Racine-Johnson Aquatic Ecologists; and Hydrilla removed from the watercraft, courtesy Jake Sporn.