More equipment coming to help boaters contain invasive star algae on Minnesota lakes


Starry Stonewort is Minnesota’s newest invasive aquatic horror story – a grass-like spider algae that loves high-quality water, destroys fish spawning habitat, and forms dense mats that smother vegetation native and tangled the propellers of boats.

He’s out there now, growing under the ice. According to the state’s official count, the algae has spread to 17 lakes and the Mississippi River since its discovery in Minnesota on Lake Koronis in 2015.

Algae don’t sleep in the winter, said Kate Hagsten, plant manager in the resource management division of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

“It kind of falls to the bottom,” she said.

Even as the snow flies, a new effort is underway to contain the destructive invasive species, as Cass County crews this week set up four new boat decontamination stations on Lakes Winnibigoshish and Cass. It is the first of 28 self-service boat cleaning kiosks installed statewide as part of a million-dollar “Stop Starry” project to control algae.

The rest will be rolled out by spring “so they’re ready to go open water,” said Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes & Rivers Advocates. They will be installed on infested lakes in Beltrami, Itasca, Meeker, Stearns, Pope and Wright counties.

Forester’s group bought the clean-up stations with a million dollar grant from the lottery-funded Minnesota Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund and are giving them to local groups and governments for qu ‘they install them.

“I think it will definitely reduce the risk,” Forester said.

Nicholas Phelps, director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, agreed. It is still early in the invasion, he said. Boat cleaning stations aren’t new, but there aren’t enough of them and the state has historically relied on an army of personal watercraft inspectors standing on the shore, he said. This leaves loopholes in the system. Having decontamination equipment on targeted lakes complements the state’s extensive boat inspection program, he said.

“This is the first time that on a larger state scale they’ve tried to tackle a specific species in this way, and I think it’s great,” said Phelps.

Heidi Wolf, invasive species program supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), applauded the project. There are already about fifty cleaning stations in Minnesota. The DNR has 23 other portable hot water decontamination units that inspection staff operate, Wolf said. Additionally, weed control equipment made by Darwin’s Aqua Weed Stick is installed in about two dozen locations.

This is not much, given the magnitude of the problem. The star stonewort is the latest invasive aquatic species, joining zebra mussels and others. He is said to have hitchhiked to Minnesota in ship ballasts on Lake Superior. The seaweed sports a tiny, pearly star-shaped bulbil, which is a reproductive organ that grows new plants. In North America, all starred stanzas are male and reproduce on their own.

Algae can be treated with herbicides, but it’s not very effective and only gives it a haircut, Wolf said. One of the most successful efforts has been a project in Stearns County’s Grand Lake, where scuba divers dig out the algae by hand.

“Can we achieve eradication? Nobody knows at the moment, ”she said.

Adam Doll, MNR’s boat inspection program coordinator, called cleaning boats an effective way to control the spread of invasive species. Doll said boaters generally comply. MNR and local government partners carried out more than 500,000 boat inspections last year, he said, and found that 95% of incoming boats complied with state laws.

The new kiosks being installed are manufactured by CD3 based in St. Paul, whose name comes from the motto: Clean. Dry. Drain. Arrange. Manufactured in Princeton, Minnesota, the stations are solar powered, waterless and equipped with lights, high pressure air hoses to blow off boat lines, vacuums, and scraper tools to help clean the average fishing boat on a 10 minute timed cycle. They are free to use.

The next step, said Forester, is years of organizing in communities to encourage boat cleaning and build “civic pride” around it.

“The laws are in place,” Forester said. “People are supposed to do this anyway.”

Not everyone is convinced that cleaning stations are up to the task. Valerie Brady, an aquatic ecologist at the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, begins a study to determine their effectiveness, in cooperation with CD3. She said inspections focus too much on the exterior of the boats and not enough on the interior. Duck hunting really messes up interiors, she noted.

Hagsten, in Cass County, said he was optimistic. At the same time, she said, she is concerned about the impact of algae on local wild rice beds.

The star stanza has been found in stands of wild rice, she said, but it is not known how the rice was affected. Invasive plants can change the acidity of the water, which wild rice is sensitive to. In addition, dense mats of multiple sclerosis suffocate other plants.

There are concerns that algae could affect the ability of wild rice to germinate, Hagsten said. This could be devastating since wild rice is a sacred plant to the Ojibwe people, part of the tribe’s migration history and one of its main sources of food. Tribal scientists and the U are collaborating to study the problem.

“The importance of work is almost impossible to measure at the sociological level,” Hagsten said. “The presence of wild rice in the landscape and the harvesting process are central to the health and identity of local indigenous peoples. “

About Bradley J. Bridges

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