Aquatic Invaders to Vermont and New York

Thanks to a training session on invasive species, a number of us at the Museum can now explain to our visitors which species are encroaching on Lake Champlain and what boaters and anglers can do to help keep them out.

Above: Bethany Sargent, Volunteer Monitoring Coordinator with the State of Vermont (far right) works with VIP participants in the 2015 training at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

From the tiny transparent spiny water flea that looks as if it is dangling a long fishing pole, to the ubiquitous Eurasian water milfoil, Bethany Sargent of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation showed us images and specimens of these critters that do not belong in Lake Champlain’s ecosystem but have set up shop here anyway.

With the DEC, the Maritime Museum co-hosted this “Vermont Invasive Patrollers” (VIP) training. The purpose of holding the training here was to inform staff about these species and also to offer a course to those who live or work on other lakes and ponds. Aside from a half-dozen staff, participants came from Lake Willoughby in the Northeast Kingdom and the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, which contains several ponds. The program encourages trainees to monitor for invasive species in their body of water two times per summer.

The Maritime Museum has been concerned for years about the effects of mussel colonies on underwater shipwrecks. The byssal threads of zebra mussels – the strong strings with which they attach to surfaces – can gradually degrade the wood of shipwrecks. LCMM Conservation Lab staff have also found that zebra mussels carry bacteria that increase the rusting rate of iron, such as the fittings on shipwrecks.

Imagine our concern to learn that, unlike zebra mussels (which inhabit shallower waters), quagga mussels can survive at depths of 400 feet. If this invasive species reaches Lake Champlain it will thus be a potential threat to all of our hundreds of shipwrecks. One quagga has been found in the Mohawk River.

This VIP training contained several hands-on components.

Ms. Sargent of the DEC’s Watershed Management Division gave us a view into the complex patterns involved in limnology – lake science – through the example of how several invasive species affect the lake’s plankton community. Acting as the base of the aquatic food chain, a balanced plankton community is essential to a healthy lake. The toxic blue-green algae blooms that have occurred in Lake Champlain with increasing frequency in recent years point to an imbalance. Although these blooms are largely caused by nutrients that erode off the land, other problems may be caused by the spiny water flea as well as alewives, both of which are invasive species.

Spiny water flea, which is visible to the naked eye, was found in Lake Champlain in 2014 and has already spread rapidly. It feeds on the native zooplankton (animal plankton), which can lead to a rise in algal growth due to fewer of the native zooplankton feeding on the green stuff. This can reduce water clarity. Alewives, which compete with the much more desirable native rainbow smelt, can play a similar role by eating vast quantities of zooplankton (in addition to washing up by the thousands on beaches and rotting there!).

Although there is an element of depressing inevitability about the arrival of many of these nuisance invasive species, measures are being taken to ward off the spread of the spiny water flea to other lakes, and to keep out species such as the tiny New Zealand Mudsnail, which has been found in the Great Lakes. In both cases, cleaning boats and other equipment with hot water is crucial. The water must be at least 140 degrees and then drying must take place for 5 days to be sure spiny water fleas have been killed.

The DEC is planning on having three decontamination stations on Lake Champlain starting sometime in July, said Sargent. These hot power-wash facilities will occur at Malletts Bay, Charlotte and the Mississquoi National Wildlife Refuge.

More information about the Vermont Invasives Patroller program.


Want to Get Involved?

Sign up for a VIP workshop through the Vermont Watershed Management Division, or contact us to host one at LCMM: Ecology Programs Director Elizabeth Lee, elizabethl@lcmm.org.


This project was funded by an agreement (P14AC01016) awarded by the United States National Park Service (NPS) to the New England interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) in partnership with the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership. NEIWPCC manages CVNHP’s personnel, contract, grant, and budget tasks, and provides input on the program’s activities. The viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily represent those of NEIWPCC, CVNHP, LCBP, NPS, or the U. S. Government, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products or causes constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.