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Beach Awareness Week: Great Lakes Invasive Species

The Great Lakes are home to many plants and wildlife, but not all of them naturally belong. Let's take a look at invasive species!

LAKE, MICHIGAN, Mich. — When it comes to the plants and animals that you may see on your trip to the beach, most people likely don't give them much though. However, some of those plants and animals do not belong in the waters or shores of Lake Michigan, at least not natively. 

These intruders are collectively referred to as invasive species. To be classified as such, they need to both be found outside of their native home and also cause environmental or socio-economic harm. 

This harm can be wide ranging. It includes everything from disrupting local food webs, out competing native species for resources, changing the environment (for the better or worse) that they inhabit, clogging water systems, disrupting fishing, and even presenting the risk for wildfire, among many others. 

It is because of these wide ranges of impacts that both state and federal agencies take the monitoring of current and prevention of future invasive species very seriously. Organizations such as the EPA, Michigan Sea Grant, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and others work to educate and inform the public of invasive species and to actively work toward and teach others how to prevent new invasions. 

You can see the full conversation I had with Kevin O'Donnell, the Lead Scientist for Great Lakes Invasive Species at the EPA, about this topic in the video below. 

The sheer size of the Great Lakes and the number of invasive and potential invasive species makes detection and prevention a hard task for any agency to manage. In order to keep the situation best under control, help from the public is absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately, there is not one characteristic, or set of characteristics, a person can look at in order to determine if a species belongs or if it does not. Knowledge about specific species is the only way to go. 

To that end, NOAA has a great database of species that anyone can reference! It's called GLANSIS, or the Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System. (You can find it by CLICKING HERE.

On this website you can find all of the known invasive species for the Great Lakes, and search up plants and animals either by name or by location on the map. You can also contribute your reports and photos of species that you have seen along the lake in order to better assist their monitoring efforts. 

Finally, it is important to note that prevention is the most powerful tool in combating invasive species. Once a species arrives in a region, it is usually there for good. 

Invasive species can arrive via intentional dumping of water from aquariums, or dumping of water that had been stored on boats that travel to other water bodies. They can arrive via natural events like flooding, or through organisms hitchhiking on ships, smaller boats, or through other means of travel and commerce. 

One thing you can do to help is to make sure you clean any boats, fishing gear, or beach/water equipment between visits to different bodies of water. The recommend method is called Clean, Drain, Dry. 

Clean the gear, with hot water and a detergent if possible. Drain any water that may be stored or trapped. Let the gear fully dry out, sitting for at least 5 days, or dry it off manually. 

You can see more about proper cleaning procedures in the video below from Michigan Sea Grant. 

At the end of the day, we hope you get out and enjoy the beaches and lakes this summer! We also hope you do your part to keep our precious natural resources protected as best you can!

-- Meteorologist Michael Behrens

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Email me at: MBehrens@13OnYourSide.com

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