Boatyard workers are important ‘Eyes on the Lake’ participants

Jesse Patterson/League to Save Lake Tahoe

In many ways, staff at Lake Tahoe’s marinas are the last line of defense for preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. Much like Tahoe’s boat inspection program, marina staff are often the final pair of trained eyes on a boat before it enters the lake.

While Tahoe’s boat inspection program has been an overwhelming success at preventing the introduction of new invasives, dozens of non-native species are already established and spreading in the lake. Many invasive species are easily spread by unsuspecting boaters if their trip starts from or involves a stop in any of the infested areas around the lake. Fortunately, marina managers and staff are taking steps to be part of the solution.

Starting in 2015, staff from Tahoe marinas began participating in aquatic invasive species trainings delivered by experts with the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s Eyes on the Lake program.

Eyes on the Lake was started as a citizen science monitoring program designed to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in Tahoe’s waters. League scientists and engagement staff have trained nearly 500 community members on how to identify and report the presence of aquatic plants found while out enjoying the lake.

“It’s our role to prevent the spread because we’re a big entry point,” said Darren Kramer, general manager at Obexer’s Boat Company. “Education is key. If you’re not aware of something affecting the lake, you’re not able to help change it. We have a role in mitigation, where we can report what we find. If we have questions, it’s our job to find the professionals to help with identification to make sure things don’t get worse.”

Employees from every Tahoe marina have participated in training tailored to the special concerns. In addition to concerns of plant fragments arriving attached to boats, marinas are usually at high risk for aquatic invasive species infestations, given their warm, calm waters and the available nutrient inputs from stormwater runoff.

“Marina staff are the boots on the ground when it comes to addressing aquatic invasive plants, since they are at the water’s edge and able to observe day-to-day changes. It’s important to give them the resources we can—Eyes on the Lake training—so they are aware, and can respond to the problem of invasives increasing and spreading in the lake,” said Mary Fiore-Wagner with Lahontan Regional Water Control Board.

As part of the update of the general permit that addresses marina operations under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, marinas now have guidelines for how to deal with boats that arrive with invasive plants attached, including a set of questions for boaters to help identify the source of the plant. Marinas now also survey their own areas. If an infestation exists, they map the infestation locations to prevent further spread.

“It’s also good that marinas implement the best management practices identified in their marina pollution-prevention plans,” Fiore-Wagner said. “Best management practices that marinas should implement to control the spread of invasives plants include: skimming for plant fragments, having boaters back up before leaving the marina to dislodge the plants, and educating boaters.”

The Eyes on the Lake training provided to marina staff includes opportunities to handle samples of the two aquatic invasive plants that are already present in Lake Tahoe—Eurasian watermilfoil and curlyleaf pondweed—alongside samples of the native look-alike plants that are commonly found in the same areas.

“The biggest benefit for us has been seeing and touching the live plants,” said Kramer.

“Seeing a picture in a slideshow is one thing, but being able to pick up and touch the plants in the Eyes on the Lake training was very educational.”

When a marina staff member—or any other Eyes on the Lake-trained community member—reports finding a new aquatic invasive plant or other invasive species, it triggers a rapid response that kicks into gear over 40 partner agencies of the Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Program.

“Aquatic invasive species could ruin the entire ecology and biology of the lake,” said Kramer. “It would change everything about Lake Tahoe.”

Jesse Patterson is deputy director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe.