Sleuthing in the littoral zone, the fight against invasive aquatic plants

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Roberta Hill, from the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program, helped us sort and identify the aquatic plants we collected from Pemaquid Pond during our Invasive Plant Patrol workshop.

Back in 2009, a man named Dick Butterfield did what I did yesterday. He attended his first workshop with the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (VLMP), to start learning to identify dangerous invasive aquatic plants. His thirst for knowledge, combined with concise, effective training, soon saved one of our local lakes.

No doubt armed with his mini waterproof identification key to the 11 most-unwanted suspects, he ventured out on his very first patrol, on nearby Damariscotta Lake. And found hydrilla, which the Maine DEP calls “the most problematic invasive plant in North America.” The lake is huge, with 45 miles of shoreline, but volunteers and experts sprang into action to contain the hydrilla in the tiny cove where Dick had found it. Dick caught it early, which is critically important in the fight against invasives.

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Paired up with buddies, we went out into our assigned sectors to collect plant specimens in the littoral zone, the zone of richest diversity along the lake’s shoreline.

Our workshop was information-packed, but my message for you is simple. In Roberta’s words, “The work of citizen scientists [volunteers] on the the front line is the most important piece in this fight.” Training focuses on just those 11 likely culprits, which fall into three main structural categories. That means that some types of plants (like hairy, grass-like stuff) you see can just be ignored. To demonstrate how easy screening samples can be, VLMP recently set up a table at L.L. Bean and taught willing shoppers how to use the key. Their average time to key out a sample was just two minutes.

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The sorting pan for one of the three broad categories that the eleven-most-unwanted invasive plants fall into. Although we were just learning, and made some mistakes, visible in the photo are some innocuous native milfoils and bladderworts that we collected on our plant patrol.

I was invited to yesterday’s workshop by the Pemaquid Watershed Association, which I’ve belonged to for many years. One of my resolutions for 2017 was to become a more active PWA volunteer. I’ve been writing some press releases and plan to volunteer for plant patrols on McCurdy Pond, where I often keep my canoe. If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program or take a peek at the Key to the Eleven Most Unwanted Invasive Aquatic Plants.

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