Officials: Boaters can help preserve waterways

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It might just seem like a little muck and mire, but officials at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said that "aquatic invasive species" -- often in the form of plant life, mud and even water from a bilge or ballast tank of a boat -- can help contaminate lakes and waterways, costing millions of dollars in cleanup and control.

Known as "aquatic hitchhikers," organisms, as well as animals and fish, can be transported by watercraft, from a location where they are native to a place where they become invasive and negatively impact "boating, fishing and swimming," officials said.

"Aquatic invasive species are non-native plants and animals that threaten native plants, wildlife and their habitats," officials said in a statement, adding that such invasive species can adversely affect areas by "clogging waterways, changing the aesthetics of water bodies, and adversely altering natural habitat." Examples of such species include: Eurasian watermilfoil, an underwater plant believed to have been introduced to North American lakes in the 1940s, likely through aquarium tanks; zebra mussels, native to Russia; and, Hydrilla, a European waterweed introduced through aquarium tanks in the 1960s, authorities said.

"Aquatic invasive species can spoil boating and fishing trips, reduce lakeshore property values and undermine the tourism industry," State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said in a statement.

"Once established, controlling non-native plant and animal life is extremely costly -- and eradication is very difficult, sometimes impossible. We need the assistance and cooperation of boaters to prevent invasive species from degrading State Parks and waters."

Those invasive species can "hitchhike" to a new location via trailered boats, car-top boats and equipment moving between waterways, officials said, adding that visitors can help prevent this spread by following some simple procedures:

* Clean and remove visible plants, animals, fish and mud from your boat, trailer and other equipment, and dispose of it in a suitable trash container or on dry land.

* Drain water from the bilge, live wells, ballast tanks and other locations with water before leaving the launch; disinfect when possible.

* Dry your boat and boat trailer, as well as all equipment, completely. At least 5 days of drying time is recommended. Drying times vary depending on weather and material.

"Invasive species present a risk to the ecosystem, impair recreational opportunities on New York water bodies, and can cause billions of dollars in economic losses," State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement, adding: "We encourage all New Yorkers to join this effort by being aware of the threat and taking steps to prevent the spread of aquatic invasives."

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