Free boat wash targets Michigan invaders

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Sarah Plantrich leads an education session

Sarah Plantrich leads an education session at Torch lake, north of Traverse City, Michigan. Image: Michigan State University Mobile Boat Wash

By Kevin Duffy

Michigan State University is fighting the state’s worst aquatic invaders with mobile lakeside education and free boat washes.

A grant provided by the Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Forest Service supports the portable project which has already landed in 32 inland lakes as part of the “Clean, Drain, Dry” initiative.

“Boats and boat trailers are the number one means of lake-to-lake transport for invasive species,” said Sarah Plantrich, a project outreach volunteer.

With more than 150 boats washed, Plantrich and other volunteers have discovered and removed aquatic invaders that threaten the health of lake systems.

Some plant invaders, like the Eurasion watermilfoil, crowd out native species. Others, including starry stonewort, release chemicals that dampen native species growth and form dense meadows that keep fish from spawning.

Mobile Boat Wash unit sprays off hidden invasives

Mobile Boat Wash unit sprays off hidden invaders. Image: Michigan State University Mobile Boat Wash

Volunteers have also removed the filter-feeding zebra mussel, but teams focus efforts on the lesser-known invasive aquatic plants. Teams of two — one washer and one educator — operate five mobile units across the entire state.

“We explain the techniques for effective boat washing, while providing boaters with an education and a clean and invasive-free boat,” Plantrich said.

Some boaters are more educated than others, she said. “Some were familiar with the word invasive, others were not, and whether or not they knew, concern varied among them.”

Michigan has more than a dozen permanent public boat wash stations. Owners are encouraged to wash their boats regularly to protect the lakes’ ability to support wildlife and recreation.

“It’s becoming a viable option,” Plantrich said. “Permanent or mobile wash stations are becoming popular, but they’re not the only way.”

Plantrich recommends three options to clean boats fresh out of the water:

  • Using a spray bottle, apply a 10 percent bleach solution to boat and trailer
  • Find a local, 25-cent manually operated car wash to spray down boat and trailer
  • Leave boat and trailer in sun between weekends of use to dry out potential invaders

If access or time becomes an issue, experts recommend pulling aquatic hitchhikers off boats and equipment, whether they’re invasive or not.

For a free wash and a can koozie or key float, visit the mobile wash stations at MSU’s remaining events.

This weekend the portable washers are headed to Clark Lake in Jackson County. Next week, they’ll move to White Lake in Muskegon County, while supporting weekday washes at Lake Lansing and Lake Ovid near Lansing.

To visit a mobile station or to learn more, visit the program’s Facebook page.

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