What Lurks Beneath? Nature Conservancy Surveillance Team Searches Great Lakes and Finger Lakes for Aquatic Invaders

Rapid surveys at more than 400 boat launches aim to find invasives before they spread

Rochester | August 02, 2013

This summer, The Nature Conservancy is sending five students and recent graduates on a different kind of summer road trip—a quest for invasive species lurking in Central and Western New York’s waters.

This aquatic invasives surveillance team is comprised of ecology, biology and environmental studies specialists with an array of field work and invasive species management experience. The team will canoe, snorkel and conduct rake tosses in water bodies including Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the Ohio River, the Finger Lakes and the Erie Canal in search of Hydrilla and other interlopers.

Hydrilla was found during the summer of 2011 in the Cayuga Inlet in Ithaca, N.Y. and in 2012 in the Erie Canal in Tonawanda, N.Y. Fragments of the highly invasive plant are easily transported by boats and can also be dispersed by waterfowl and water currents. Once new populations are established, Hydrilla may grow up to a foot a day.

This season’s field team is charged with hunting down Hydrilla and other intruders as well as training community members to find the plants before they get established or transported to other waters.

The effort is part of a large-scale surveillance effort The Nature Conservancy is coordinating throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio to determine where emerging aquatic invasive species exist. The team will survey 400 water access points for aquatic invaders while improving regional and interstate cooperation across the various organizations working on this threat.

“Getting into the water and sampling as many places as possible will give us a better understanding of where aquatic invasive species are distributed,” said Gregory Sargis, The Nature Conservancy’s director of ecological management in Central and Western New York.

“It also gives us an opportunity to connect the dots between the various local agencies and organizations working on this issue, which will help us all have greater impact.”

The Nature Conservancy is also exploring genetic testing of Hydrilla to figure out where it came from and help close that pathway. “It’s like crime scene forensics for plants,” Sargis said.

Please contact Kate Frazer at kfrazer@tnc.org or (339) 222-2014 to arrange interviews and field visits. Journalists and interested community members are also invited to participate in a webinar on July 26 or an interactive session in Skaneateles on August 6 to learn where to look for Hydrilla, how to sample and gather suspect plants, and where to report findings.

Aquatic Invasives Summer Surveillance Tour:

  • July 22 – 26: Hemlock Lake, Canadice Lake, Conesus Lake, Canandaigua Lake and Honeoye Lake
  • July 26, 2pm: Aquatic Invasive Species Webinar; to join, visit http://goo.gl/dmw95 and enter password “Hydri11a”
  • July 29 – August 2: French Creek and Chautauqua-Conneaut Watershed
  • August 5 – 9: Skaneateles Lake, Owasco Lake and Otisco Lake
  • August 6, 7pm: Skaneateles Lake Workshop
  • August 12 – 16: Upper Allegheny River Watershed

“State and federal governments spend millions controlling invasives and preventing their spread. Reacting to species after they enter our lakes only guarantees that these costs will continue to grow,” said Jim Howe, The Nature

Conservancy’s director in Central and Western New York. “But the cost of inaction is even greater. These interlopers can damage water quality, crowd out native fish, obstruct boating, swimming and fishing, and even pose health hazards for people. Early detection is our best chance at success.”

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global. To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Kate Frazer

The Nature Conservancy in Central & Western NY
(339) 222-2014


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