More than 30 volunteers gathered at Wantagh Mill Pond on Friday to remove water chestnut plants, an invasive species that can affect the local flora and fauna.
The star-like plants, while seemingly harmless, are detrimental to the pond's ecosystem. They deplete the water's oxygen when they decompose, potentially affecting fish, and often compete with native plants.
“I wanted to come out here and help them get this stuff out of here," fisherman Harold Heffert of Bellmore said. "It hurts the fishing, it hurts the lake. It takes the oxygen out of the water."
Friday's cleanup was organized as part of a statewide weeklong awareness campaign on invasive species.
Water chestnuts were first found on Long Island around 2008, when they began to spread throughout several lakes and ponds, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. They have been eradicated from two bodies of water, Oyster Bay Mill Pond and Swan Pond, according to officials.
The plants often form "dense, tangled mats that float on the surface of the water," the DEC said in a release. Their stems reach down into the water and risk covering the entire system, the agency said.
“You should never release a nonnative plant into your local water,” DEC aquatic biologist Heidi O’Riordan said. “So when this happens, since this plant doesn’t belong here it doesn’t have any natural predators. Nothing eats it, it tends to take over.”
Hauling bags out of the water, each weighing around 35 pounds, several volunteers participated in multiple trips Friday in an attempt to load as many bags as possible. By noon, more than 30 bags lined the shoreline.
Chris Smith of Hempstead said he and a colleague, Kate Robb, participated in the cleanup to show their support for the awareness campaign. Their plan was to paddle to the most plant-populated areas and start pulling some of the weeds.
"Once you get in the water it's pretty easy," he said. "As long as you're okay getting a little dirty."
But for David Ganim of the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District, it was easier to stay closer to shore. Ganim used protective gloves as he began to yank out some of the weeds, after already carrying out several loaded baskets.
"To get the whole root out, you have to be very gentle and almost move your whole body with it," he said. "You can't just pull with your arms because then it will just break and then you'll leave the root down there and then it could end up regrowing."