Marina owners, users, team up to clear Fernridge lake of boat-fouling invader

Photo by Roger BaileyEUGENE –  The Fern Ridge Reservoir just west of Eugene, Ore., is a popular recreation spot for boaters and swimmers during the spring and summer months. The marina attracts freshwater sailors and provides ample fishing opportunities for anglers. There’s only one problem: An invasive species is steadily taking over the lake, and the worse it gets, the less welcoming the lake becomes.

The invader, known as Eurasian watermilfoil, is an aquatic plant that forms tangled mats as it grows. Eurasian watermilfoil tends to show up in shallow waters where it can access sunlight. These thick tangles are obstructive enough to stop boat motors from working, and they can prevent kayakers from maneuvering through the water.

Not only is the milfoil an obstacle, but it also saps oxygen from the water and can cause fish to suffocate. As the fish decay at the bottom of the lake, the smell can get pretty strong.

For boaters  like Scott Coleman, the owner of Underway LLC and manager for the Orchard Point Marina, it’s a worrying problem. “Specifically in this marina, if this plant really got going and clogged up the marina, then you wouldn’t be able to get your boat through here,” Coleman says. “And, it would be no fun to swim in.”

Last year, Coleman and a band of concerned marina users decided to take action. After consulting with Tania Siemens, WISE Program coordinator, and Sam Chan, invasive species specialist at Oregon Sea Grant, the boaters created a management plan that could correct their core problem: standing water.

Read more about their efforts in OSG’s Watershed and Invasive Species Education blog

(Photo by Roger Bailey)

Audubon highlights OSG’s work to educate about marine invaders

Red-eared slider, another classroom invader

The latest issue of Audubon, the magazine of the National Audobon Society, reports that in the 1970s an Alaskan high school science teacher purchased red-legged frogs from a supply house in the Pacific Northwest. Once the amphibians were no longer needed, the educator released them. Four decades later, studies show that frogs that have decimated local Alaskan amphibian populations have genetic ties to those found in Washington’s Columbia Basin. …

Oregon Sea Grant Extension specialist Sam Chan, a biologist who researches invasive species at Oregon State University, is leading a collaborative project with U.S. and Canadian researchers to educate teachers about the dangers of letting aliens loose. In one survey of nearly 2,000 teachers, Chan’s team found that schools had released dozens of well-known invasive species, like crayfish, waterweeds, mosquito fish, and red-eared slider turtles (above).

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WISE blog: Watershed resources for teachers

WISE logoWelcome the newest member of the Oregon Sea Grant blogging family, WISE, the Watershed & Invasive Species Education blog.

Amy Schneider, a graduate student and science writer at the University of Oregon, is working with WISE program coordinator Tania Siemens to develop up-to-date, high-value content to help teachers learn about emerging watershed issues, which they can then use to engage their students in science learning and community action.

The blog is just the latest teacher tool to emerge from the WISE program, which enlists teachers across Oregon in teacher trainings, a STEM-based curriculum, and on-going engagement in a community for learning and teaching about emerging watershed issues.

Since the program started in 2007, more than 70 teachers have gone through WISE training, reaching more than 4,500 students who have completed at least 50 watershed stewardship projects.

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Live fish, crabs, survive post-tsunami trip aboard Japanese boat

Oplegnathus-fasciatus-WDFW-photox250Scientists at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center are examining a handful of Japanese fish that may have survived a nearly two-year trip aboard a small fishing boat torn off the Japanese coast by the 2011 tsunami.

The fish – Oplegnathus fasciatus, known as Barred knifejaw or Striped beakperch – were found in the bottom of a Japanese boat that washed ashore at Long Beach, WA on March 22. The vessel is one of a growing number of large items cast to sea by the Japanese tsunami that have made their way across the ocean to Pacific Northwest shores.

Sam Chan, Oregon Sea Grant’s invasive species specialist, said the fish species normally are found only as far east as Hawaii. Scientists aren’t yet sure whether the fish traveled all the way from Japan, or if they somehow got onboard the derelict vessel as it crossed the ocean. “Either way, it’s an interesting case of organisms ‘rafting’ across the ocean,” Chan said.

OSU’s Jessica Miller, a marine fisheries ecologist with the HMSC-based Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station, as four of the fish and is examining their stomach contents and otoliths (specialized bones found in the ears of fish and other species) for insight into what the fish had been eating and the environmental conditions they encountered during their transit. The fifth fish is on display at the Seaside Aquarium.

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Tsunami dock piece to be dedicated March 10

Cleaning the tsunami dock (Photo: OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center)NEWPORT – A new tsunami awareness exhibit, featuring a piece of the massive Japanese dock that washed ashore at Agate beach last year, will be dedicated at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in a public ceremony and grand opening on Sunday, March 10.

The public ceremony, which runs from 2-4 pm,  marks the two-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan. Sponsors include Oregon Sea Grant, the HMSC and the City of Newport.

The dock was among the first – and largest – fragments of debris to wash up on Pacific Northwest shores more than a year after the magnitude 9.03 undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. The dock’s arrival on Agate Beach last June, sparked concern over the potential spread of non-native plants and marine animals, thousands of which were found alive and clinging to the dock.

Teams of state Parks and Recreation workers, scientists and volunteers scoured the dock’s surface and scorched it with blow-torches to destroy the organisms – and also collected specimens for identification and analysis by researchers at the HMSC.

The dock, roughly the size of a railroad boxcar and weighing tons, was sawn into pieces for disposal, and one section was saved to be placed at the Hatfield Center as a memorial to the Japanese disaster – and to aid in educating visitors about the risks of similar tsunamis generated by subduction zone quakes off the Oregon coast.  On initial delivery, however, the concrete-and-steel segment was discovered to be too big for its site, and was hauled to the Port of Newport docks to be recut to fit the space.

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Japanese journalists cover Oregon tsunami preparations, responses

Two journalists from  one of Japan’s leading newspapers visited Oregon’s central coast recently to report on the gradual arrival of debris from the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Aomori prefecture, and how that tragedy has spurred Oregon’s coastal towns to prepare for similar disasters on US shores.

Tomoji Watanabe and Yu Miyaji visited OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, and interviewed dozens of coastal officials and residents about lessons learned from the Japanese tsunami.

The pier in question originated in the Japanese town of Misawa, and after more than a year adrift in the Pacific, washed up on Oregon’s Agate Beach last June. Authorities estimated that the “tsunami dock” attracted more than 13,000 visitors to the beach before state contractors cut it apart and hauled it off for disposal.

OSU scientists, including specialists from Oregon Sea Grant, were particularly interested in the thousands of living plants and marine animals – most of them strangers to US shores –  that survived the trans-Pacific voyage. Fearing that the organisms might become invasive if allowed to get loose in the wild, state environmental agencies scraped, incinerated and buried them after scientists had a chance to retrieve samples.

A small segment of the pier has been on display at the HMSC Visitor Center, and a larger piece is expected to be installed in the Visitor Center’s lobby this March to commemorate the second anniversary of the Japanese disaster.

Additional debris from the tsunami is expected to wash up on Pacific Northwest coasts; the state has set up a special phone number, 211, for reports of suspected debris.

Fragment of Japanese dock to anchor tsunami interpretive trail at HMSC

NEWPORT, Ore. – A section from a huge dock that ripped loose from its moorings in the northern Japanese city of Misawa during the massive earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011 will become part of an exhibit at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, just a few miles from where it washed ashore in early June of this year.

The dock, which became an instant tourist attraction for several weeks, has since been dismantled. But a piece of the huge structure has been saved and will be on display at the HMSC by early next year.

The City of Newport is providing initial funding for the project and Mayor Mark McConnell hopes donations will fill the gaps. When finished, the dock section will be mounted outside of the HMSC Visitor Center, accompanied by educational signage as well as a memorial plaque. The exhibit is being developed by Oregon Sea Grant, which manages the Visitor Center, and will serve as the start of an eventual interpretive trail built along the tsunami evacuation route from the OSU center to higher ground.

“That would certainly be fitting,” said McConnell, who visited Sendai, Japan, last summer. “The devastation we saw in Japan was incredible. You realize when you see it first-hand that you can’t plan or build for an event of that magnitude, but you can prepare for it by educating yourself about the risks and creating strategies for safe evacuation.

“The exhibit will be a reminder that the tragedy in Japan could just as easily happen here,” he added.

Shawn Rowe, an OSU free-choice learning specialist based at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, said the focus of the planned exhibit’s educational effort will be on tsunami awareness, the risk of invasive species from the tsunami debris, and how the dock got here in the first place.

“It is a good opportunity to broaden public awareness about such issues,” said Rowe, who works for Oregon Sea Grant. “This was a unique event. Certainly, materials float over from Japan quite often. But rarely, if ever, have we seen a confluence of circumstances that led to the dock arriving in Newport, Ore.”

Fishing floats, logs and debris arrive on the West Coast from Asia with some regularity, but rarely does a structure this large that had been anchored for years in an inlet in Japan – and thus accumulating local seaweeds and organisms – rip loose and journey across the ocean.

“What was surprising to us is that so many of the plants and animals that were attached to the dock survived the 15-month journey across the Pacific Ocean,” said Jessica Miller, an OSU marine ecologist who has studied the dozens of plant and animal species on the dock. “What we don’t yet know is whether these species have established themselves in local waters with the potential to become invasive.”

Mark Farley, who manages the HMSC Visitor Center for Sea Grant, said the dock section will be delivered to Newport in the next few weeks, and work on the foundation for the display and signage will continue into the early part of 2013.

“Our hope is to have the exhibit open to the public by the anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami next March,” Farley said.

For more information on donating to the Japanese dock exhibit at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, visit the HMSC Visitor Center website , or call Mark Farley at 541-867-0276.

Sea Grant researchers create model for analyzing invasive species threats

Boat encrusted with quagga mussels (Photo by Sam Chan)by Jeffrey Basinger, 2012 Sea Grant Communications Fellow

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team at Oregon State University has developed a statistical model that aims to predict which non-native species might become invaders – and arm resource managers to prevent their spread.

Led by economist Munisamy Gopinath and funded by Oregon Sea Grant, the project includes two essential elements for identifying invasive species: how they travel to non-native locations, and whether they could survive and thrive in the new environment. The model also calculates the economic impacts involved in managing the invasive species.

The model is a large, but simple equation. Species that invade waterways often “hitchhike” via recreational travel. Information on where, how, and why people travel to water bodies, along with environmental factors such as temperature, precipitation and elevation, are entered into the equation. The result is a “risk of introduction” that allows resource managers and policy makers to identify species that pose a threat of invasion.

“Not all species are invasive,” said Gopinath, a professor in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and director of OSU’s graduate program in applied economics. Only transplanted species with specific characteristics that match with specific habitats will thrive, cause harm to the environment, economy and human health – and earn the “invasive” moniker.

“They may not sound like a big deal,” Gopinath said, “but all you have to look at is the quagga and zebra mussels’ invasion,” which caused serious ecological and economic damage to the Great Lakes region and recently began turning up in Western states, much to the alarm of resource managers. “Their invasion in the late 1980s was without fanfare. When these mussels quickly colonized, native mussels lost out, and in addition, water infrastructure became contaminated causing billions of dollars in damages.”

With the information the model provides, policy makers and resource managers could focus resources, along with education and outreach, to specific species and locations before invasive species are introduced, or take hold on a system.

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Crater Lake closure follows Sea Grant invasives workshop

Diver in Crater Lake (US Parks Service photo)This week’s closure of Crater Lake to divers follows National Parks Service participation in a recent Sea Grant-sponsored workshop on the legal and regulatory challenges to keeping two significant invasive species out of waterways in western states.

The NPS announced the immediate, temporary closure on Wednesday, saying it needed time to establish protocols to minimize the risk of contaminating the pristine lake with invasive species. The service anticipates that the protocols will be in place before the beginning of the 2013 season, and will require divers to take precautionary measures before entering the lake.

The 1,943-foot-deep Crater Lake, the centerpiece of a 249-square-mile national park in the southern Oregon Cascades, is  considered the deepest lake in the United States, and the ninth deepest lake in the world. Its relative isolation, along with rigorous management of the surrounding Crater Lake National Park watershed, has helped make it one of the cleanest, as well.

Of immediate concern to the park – and to representatives of state and federal agencies and Western states’ attorneys general who attended last week’s workshop in Phoenix, AZ – are highly invasive zebra and quagga mussels, already a plague in many US waters and just beginning to show up in the West.

The fast growing mussels can rapidly colonize on boats and other recreational water gear, and  can be easily spread from one waterway to another. Once established, they can foul docks, piers, water intakes and power systems, and – of more direct concern in Crater Lake – alter entire ecosystems by outfeeding and outbreeding native species.

While the mature mussels are easy to see and – with some effort – remove, their  larvae start life at a microscopic size, making them difficult to detect and destroy.

The  Phoenix meeting, convened by Oregon Sea Grant, the National Sea Grant Law Center and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, engaged state, federal and local agencies – including representatives of the attorneys general of all 15 Western states –  in a discussion of legal and regulatory frameworks that might help keep the invaders out of Western waters where they have yet to appear – or have just begun to show up. In addition, participants talked about how they might educate the recreational public about the problem, and protocols for decontaminating gear when it’s hauled out of one body of water and transported to another.

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Western states meet to tackle invasive mussels

Invasive quagga musselsPHOENIX, AZ – State legal and law enforcement officials and environmental scientists from the 15 Western states will meet in Phoenix next week to explore legal and regulatory ways of limiting an invasion of non-native mussels that can clog water systems, foul power plants, harm the environment and cost billions of dollars in damage and control wherever they spread.

Their focus: On forging a uniform approach to education, inspection and regulation to encourage recreational boat inspections in the West to prevent the spread of invasive zebra and quagga mussels.

The Aug. 22-23 meeting, convened by Oregon Sea Grant, the National Sea Grant Law Center (both programs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and hosted by the Arizona Dept. of Fish and Game, is expected to draw representatives from the attorneys general of all 15 Western states, along with state and federal fish and wildlife officials and biologists who specialize in marine invasive species.

Zebra mussels, native to southern Russia but accidentally introduced to many other areas around the world, were first detected in Lake St. Clair, near Detroit, in the late 1980s, likely imported in the ballast-water of ocean-going ships. By clinging to the undersides of docks, boats and anchors, they rapidly spread through the Great Lakes region, the East Coast and the Southeast. Although small, the mussels grow rapidly, and can quickly colonize almost anything underwater – from boat hulls and anchors to municipal and industrial water intakes, hydroelectric systems and other facilities. The cost of managing these pests in the Great Lakes alone has been estimated at more than $500 million a year.

The related quagga mussel, another prolific breeder whose filter-feeding habits has been shown to change entire ecosystems, has followed a similar invasive path since showing up in Lake Erie in 1989, and is now found from the Great Lakes to the Northeast.

Within the last few years, isolated infestations of both species, which can survive for days to weeks out of water  have begun to show up in Western recreational and irrigation waters in California and Arizona, moist likely transported on recreational boats and trailers. Efforts to control the spread by educating boaters have met with mixed success, and state-by-state differences in legal and regulatory frameworks hinder the states’ ability to require and conduct inspections.

The Phoenix meeting will look at the impacts of invasive mussels on local economies and infrastructure, the challenges to effective control, and a 100-plus-year-old federal law – the Lacey Act – which could give states a tool for approaching the problem.

Sessions include discussions of state authority to stop boats for inspection, quarantine and decontamination, what programs and laws have been successful in Western states, public attitudes about invasive species education and enforcement, and how cash-strapped states can fund such programs.

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