You may not recognize Eurasian watermilfoil, rock snot or starry stonewort. And you may never have seen a spiny waterflea or red swamp crayfish.
All of them live in Michigan waters and they don't belong here. They're aquatic invasive species (AIS) and are just a few of the many that have been turning up with increasing regularity in the state's lakes and rivers and causing harm to the environment and economy.
That's why it's extremely important for those who recreate on Michigan's 11,000 lakes and 45,000 miles of rivers to follow a simple process whenever launching or removing any pleasure craft from the water at public and private access sites, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). Michigan law prohibits boaters from launching or moving watercraft and trailers unless they are free of aquatic organisms, including plants. Transporting watercraft without removing all drain plugs and draining all water from bilges, ballast tanks and live wells is illegal. Boaters should "Clean, Drain, and Dry" boats, trailers and any gear after leaving the water to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.
Boaters will be hearing that message again this year as they return to Michigan's waterways. The AIS Landing Blitz, a collaborative outreach campaign to raise awareness about preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species through recreational boating and related activities, is planned for this summer, especially during AIS Awareness Week in early July.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers are all on the lookout for violators, who could face fines for not following the law.
"This year, you'll see increased messaging and partnerships with lake associations and boating organizations to get the word out," said Cpl. Nick Torsky of the DNR's Law Enforcement Division. "Law enforcement is an important component, but the efforts of our partners in education and outreach is equally important."
Last year, more than 250 warnings were issued to boat owners and approximately 5,000 boater contacts were made by DNR officers in the field, Torsky said.
Even if you don't know whether the lake or river, you're on is impacted by invasive species, it's still good practice to take the appropriate measures to avoid allowing them to hitch a ride to the next body of water you're going to explore.
Follow these easy steps:
Aquatic invasive species harm Michigan's environment, economy, and human health. Millions of dollars are spent each year in Michigan to reduce the impacts of aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, sea lamprey, and aquatic invasive plants.
"People value good access to lakes and rivers, quality fishing opportunities for Michigan's native sport fish species, and keeping boat hulls, motors and docks free from damaging and costly invasive species, so concern over aquatic invasive species is warranted," said Kevin Walters, an EGLE aquatic biologist.
"The steps to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species are as simple as cleaning, draining and drying boats, trailers and gear after each use. Those steps are also quick and cost-effective when compared to the high costs of long-term control of invasives once they become established," Walters added.
Michigan's Invasive Species Program plans to continue to coordinate with lake associations, Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas and others to post signage and rack cards at boating access sites with messaging about the law and recommended actions.
The Invasive Species Program is cooperatively implemented by EGLE, DNR and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). The program's goals to are to prevent new introductions, limit the spread of established species, detect and respond to new invasions, and manage and control established species.
You can find out more about the types of invasive species in the water and on land and how to identify and prevent them at Michigan.gov/Invasives. Click on the blue "Species Profiles and Reporting Information" button in the middle of the page to report new sightings.