After two years of battling the invasive hydrilla plant in the Cayuga Lake inlet, herbicides and education seemed to be beating the weed down. But now it's cropped up again and authorities are looking for volunteers to help. Tamara Lindstrom tells us how ordinary citizens are becoming "Hydrilla Hunters."
ITHACA, N.Y. -- The introduction of non-native plants and animals into local ecosystems is nothing new. But the appearance of one feisty weed is not to be taken lightly.
"We're estimating that it could run a bill of about $600 million in damage in the Finger Lakes and the Great Lakes if it becomes established. Just to control this plant, to mow oaths through beds for boats and things like that," said Bill Foster, Director of Education for the Floating Classroom.
The invasive hydrilla plant can grow from just a broken piece of a plant at an alarming rate, up to a foot a day. It was first spotted in the Cayuga Lake inlet in 2011 and herbicide treatment began with promising results.
"Now, just a couple of weeks ago, it became clear that there were hydrilla stands in Fall Creek, which is the next tributary to the east. So that process may begin there now," Foster said. "So it's a matter of keeping our eyes open and finding out where they hydrilla is colonizing and trying to get a handle on it before it gets established."
Authorities are calling on volunteers to help by becoming so-called "Hydrilla Hunters."
"I live on East Shore Drive. So I'm about a mile north of Stewart Park," said volunteer Lynn Leopold. "I swim there and I see my beach every day and I'm always watching for the weed. But I don't think people realize how different the lake could be if we let this stuff get away from us."
A three hour cruise aboard the Floating Classroom teaches ordinary people everything they need to know.
"Once they learn what to look for, we know that they'll have their eyes on. If they see plants in the water, it's going to click," Foster said. "Does that look like something that ought to be there, or something that may be a problem?"
Volunteers will learn not just about hydrilla, but about the lake's ecosystem as a whole, so they can decide how best to take care of it in the future.
"There's a downside to herbicide applications. We need to have people who have an understanding of the plant and the ecology and how we go about assessing it so that in the future, they can be part of the decision making process." Foster said. "Do we want to keep applying poisons to our waterways? Is it worth it? Is it working? That's an important thing for community members to be ready to address."
Something this team will be ready for.
The teaching cruises continue next week.
For more information on volunteering or how to be a hydrilla hunter, visit ccetompkins.org.