Learn how to identify and report invasive species through a new online, self-paced course.

By Mary Bohling

Despite these extraordinary times, it is still possible to safely – with social distancing – enjoy paddle sports on Michigan’s many wonderful water trails and lakes. Kayakers, paddleboarders and canoeists can also be key in the fight to protect the waters they love by identifying and reporting aquatic invasive species they encounter.

What is an aquatic invasive species?

Aquatic invasive species are plants, fish, snails, viruses, and other organisms that move into and colonize ecosystems where they don’t belong, usually damaging native species and water quality in the process.

Often, aquatic invaders are transported by humans —  as live bait, planted in flower gardens, imported for fish ponds, carried in the bellies of shipping freighters — or plant material snagged on kayak rudders and stranded in puddles at the bottom of poorly drained canoes. If a non-native stowaway is still alive when the boat splashes into the next water body, the invader could find itself in fresh territory.

Learn at your own pace

The MI Paddle Stewards new online program from Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension will help paddlers learn about important invasive species, how to properly clean a watercraft, and how to report invasive species. The MISIN (Midwest Invasive Species Information Network) app is a tool used by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources and others to locate invasive species of concern. Using this app allows paddlers to help with the early detection of invasive species in their area.

Become an ambassador for Michigan waters in five short sessions (approximately 30-45 minutes to complete each session) and spread the word on invasive species to your friends and fellow paddlers. The MI Paddle Stewards course costs $20 and participants who complete the class will receive a bucket hat, stickers and more. (The class is free if you choose not to receive the items.) Participants will have access to complete all 5 sessions of the course until Dec. 31, 2020. Register online.

Looking for new water trails?

The Michigan Great Lakes Water Trails Working Group, comprised of staff from Michigan Sea GrantLand Information Access Association and a variety of state agencies, local governments, paddlers, and more hosts a Michigan Water Trails website (www.michiganwatertrails.org), where users can find trail maps, safety information, and plenty of other paddling resources. The site catalogs more than 3,000 miles of trails across the state, from a loop around Isle Royale in northern Lake Superior to a Lake Erie trail that crosses the border into Ohio. Many trails move along or toward a lake shore, while others are fully inland.

For questions and more information about either the MI Paddle Stewards online course or the Michigan Water Trails website, contact MSU Extension educator Mary Bohling (bohling@msu.edu). Mary also offers regular updates on news about Michigan Water Trails through an MSU Extension news digest. Register online to sign up for the Water Trails digest.