FLI Watercraft Steward Daniel Munsell helps a boater inspect
watercraft for any hitchhiker organisms.

FLI Watercraft Steward Program

The FLI Watercraft Steward Program is an education and outreach program working to inform the public about the best practices for preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. The Finger Lakes Institute began the program in May 2012 after being awarded funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to coordinate and manage the Finger Lakes Aquatic Invertebrate Assessment and Invasive Species Prevention Project, in partnership with Cayuga County. Overall, the project aims to determine which invasive invertebrates and zooplankton are present in the Seneca River Basin and provide education and outreach on preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species among the Finger Lakes and the southern shore of Lake Ontario.

Role of Stewards

FLI Watercraft Stewards are stationed at boat launches throughout the eastern seven Finger Lakes as well as three southern Lake Ontario bays, including multiple NYS Park and DEC boat launches. Stewards assist watercraft users in inspecting their boats for any aquatic invasive species and also help to remove any latched-on organisms. The FLI Watercraft Stewards dispose of the organisms in a bucket, which is later added to compost. Any organisms stewards are unable to identify are sent to the FLI lab for identification. By educating boaters on the threats aquatic invasive species pose to the region, as well as providing instructions on proper boat maintenance, the stewards aim to stop aquatic invasive species from spreading via watercraft.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Aquatic invasive species can severely degrade the water quality of the Finger Lakes, posing threats to both aquatic ecosystems and recreational water use. Invasive species thrive in non-native habitats due to their lack of natural predators, enabling them to spread rapidly, outcompete native species, and deplete food sources. Several invasive aquatic plant species, including hydrilla, European frogbit, and water chestnut have the potential to create thick mats along the water’s surface, impeding swimming, boating, and fishing areas. When waterways become infested with aquatic invasive species, property values decrease, tourism is hindered, and costs to the community to manage and control the invasive species increase. Additional species that pose a threat to the Finger Lakes region include Asian clams, Chinese mystery snails, spiny waterflea, bloody red shrimp, zebra mussels, and quagga mussels.


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