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Sacandaga stewards help stem spread of invasive water fleas

Sacandaga stewards help stem spread of invasive water fleas

Many college undergraduates spend their summers working at part-time jobs or internships. Broadalbin

Many college undergraduates spend their summers working at part-time jobs or internships. Broadalbin native Kleigh Orzolek is spending her summer fighting the spread of the invasive spiny water flea on the Great Sacandaga Lake.

For 30 hours a week at $11.50 an hour, Orzolek, an undergraduate at Paul Smith’s College majoring in forestry recreation and management, is informing lake users at the Broadalbin boat launch how to spot the spiny water flea.

“They kind of look like snot at the end of your fishing pole,” Orzolek told Galway fisherman Bob Kozolwski. “They don’t seem to come up on boats much; we’re more concerned about fishing lines. They’re bottom feeders, so if you’ve got down lures or heavy bait or lures, they’ll come up on that.”

The spiny water flea is a crustacean similar to a tiny shrimp, with a straight tail, prominent tiny, dark eyespots and a bulbous egg brood patch. A native to Europe and Asia, it has no natural predators in North American lakes, thus nothing to slow its population growth. The water flea feeds on other tiny crustaceans and zooplankton, putting it in direct competition with fish.

Kozolwski said he likes to fish on the Great Sacandaga Lake a few times a week. He said he mostly fishes for walleyes, also bottom feeders, so he’s concerned about the threat the spiny flea could be to the lake’s fish population.

“It’s a beautiful lake; everything about it is good. I don’t need it spoiled,” he said.

Orzolek said she and the other lake stewards get paid through Paul Smith’s watershed program. She first learned about invasive species at Paul Smith’s during her introduction to wildlife management class, where she studied the history of Lake Champlain and its struggle with invasive species.

“We studied how bad that lake is. There’s so much traffic on that lake with ferries and barges coming in. They’ve got so many invasive species in there now. It’s just crazy,” she said. “People who’ve been to Lake Champlain kind of cringe when they hear invasive species are coming into [the Great Sacandaga Lake] because they know how bad it can get.”

The Great Sacandaga Lake is the only inland lake where the spiny water flea has been found to date, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Council helped organize the lake steward program this summer, modeling it after a successful program on Lake George. GSLAC Chairman Bob Monacchio said he manages the lake stewards and they are paid from an $18,000 donation the GSLAC made to Paul Smith’s. The lake stewards are positioned at the public boat launches, and since the program started June 16, the water flea has been found at every one of them except in the town of Day.

“We thought it was not only important to keep invasive species out of the lake but important to keep them from being spread out of the lake to someplace else,” he said. “Some invasive species can survive a couple weeks, even a month or two, and then you put your boat back into the water and they reactivate.”

Some of the other invasive species the stewards look out for include zebra mussels, water chestnuts, round goby, Eurasian watermilfoil and purple loosestrife.

Heather Hamilton, a Troy resident who uses her boat in the Mohawk River and the Great Sacandaga Lake, said she’s sensitive to the issue of invasive species because of an experience she had with zebra mussels from the Mohawk.

“When we took our boat out last year, they were actually growing on the side. It was awesome. Fun to clean,” she said sarcastically.

Orzolek hands out “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers” stickers, which have pictures of the spiny water flea and the fishhook water flea, and another sticker with a number on it to help stewards track boats. She said she records how many times boats come into the water and ask people what other bodies of water they take their boats to.

The lake stewards have no enforcement powers and can really only advise members of the public on how to find invasive species and how to clean their boats.

She said most users of the lake seem receptive to fighting invasive species. She said some people have told her they’ve seen the spiny water fleas swimming around the lake.

“They’re pretty good on the slow days; on busy days when it gets congested, they can get a little ugly because they just want to get in and out, but mostly I haven’t had any problems,” she said.

Monacchio said the statistics compiled by the lake stewards will be another valuable tool for tracking the development of invasive species on the lake and throughout the region. He said the GSLAC is also working on a zooplankton study on the lake with Cornell University to see how much of an impact the spiny water flea is having and an invasive species study with the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, a research center of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“They’re going to look at how extensive the spiny water flea is and whether we have other invasive species,” he said.

All of this information will be put together in the fall and made available on the Internet, he said.

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