Student stewards help protect lake from invasives

By Kim Lincoln | Sep 01, 2016
Photo by: Kim Lincoln Abby Blakeley, right, a steward with the Megunticook Watershed Association Student Watershed Stewards Program, checks Jürgen Häusler's and Jürgen Simonis' kayaks Aug. 25.

Camden — Abby Blakeley knows that her lakeside summer job to educate boaters about the dangers of invasive species is working, since many locals pulling into public landings on Megunticook Lake now refer to her as the "Milfoil Girl."

Blakeley, of Hope, and three other students are working with the Megunticook Watershed Association's Student Watershed Stewards Program this summer to inspect boats entering and exiting Megunticook Lake. The program is now in its third year.

"What we try to do is educate the stewards on the threats that we have to the watershed and try to train them up on how to combat those threats," said Paul Leeper, executive director of the Megunticook Watershed Association.

A grant from the Maine Community Foundation helped to launch the program; the second year was funded by an anonymous donation and, this year, the association is on its own and has been working to obtain donations and gain support from association members to keep the program going.

Leeper makes presentations at Camden Hills Regional High School to generate interest in the program. Stewards are trained to identify the plants and how to properly search the water. The stewards also snorkel at the local landings to be sure the water is clear of non-native species.

"This job is definitely more fun than work," Leeper said.

Throughout the summer on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and sporadic evening hours during the week, Blakeley, Mariah Blemaster, also of Hope, Nick Denny and Zach Hand, both of Rockport, can be found performing courtesy boat inspections at Bog Bridge on Route 105, the Route 52 public landing or at the Norton Pond public landing at Breezemere Park in Lincolnville.

Last year, the stewards inspected 1,100 boats and kayaks and expect to exceed those figures this year.

Infestations result in habitat disruption, loss of property value, diminished water quality, reduced fishing and water recreation opportunities and significant expense to mitigate these environmental problems, according to information from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

"If something gets into this lake, it will ruin it for everyone," Blakeley said.

Prevention, early detection and control are the three ways the state recommends to control invasive species.

The stewards ask visitors what town they are from, where they have taken their boat and then ask if they may inspect the boat for invasives. They also encourage and educate boaters in how to properly inspect their own boats and hand out pamphlets detailing the invasives. Data they have collected show approximately 70 percent of visitors to Megunticook Lake and adjoining Norton Pond are local residents.

Blakeley said they are primarily looking for the plants milfoil, hydrilla and European naiad. There are a few invasive animals they look for as well, such as the Chinese mystery snail, which has been found in both Norton Pond and Megunticook River, and fish, such as the northern pike and black crappie.

Blakeley, who is a third-year environmental law student at the University of Vermont, said the association pays particularly close attention when a visitor to the lake says they have been boating on either Damariscotta Lake or Sebago Lake, because those two lakes have confirmed cases of invasive species.

The water bodies in the Megunticook Watershed are free and clear from invasive plants. She said she has found plants stuck on boat motors and trailers, but they have all been native.

A lot of places begin inspection programs after an invasive is already there, but Blakeley said its important to start before so a foreign plant is never introduced into the body of water.

For more information about the Megunticook Watershed Association, visit megunticook.org. For more information on invasive species, go to maine.gov/dep/water/invasives/.

Courier Publications Editor Kim LIncoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Margo Murphy | Sep 01, 2016 17:31

Awesome work!  Thankful for the Megunticook Watershed Association, Maine Community Foundation and the students willing to do the work! Thank you!



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