New boat designs could help stop spread of aquatic invasive species

November 22, 2018 10:56 PM

New boat designs can help reduce the spread of zebra mussels in Minnesota lakes and rivers. That's the finding of a new research project just completed by the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center.

Boats are notorious for spreading invasive species like zebra mussels.


For the last three years, MAISRC graduate student Adam Doll has been collecting water samples from compartments in watercraft, including live wells, ballast tanks and motors. He then looked for zebra mussel larvae (veligers).  

"We wanted to know where the water was, if it varied by compartment and how much was left," said Doll. "And then lastly, we wanted to know where zebra mussel veligers were."

The samples were collected from Lake Minnetonka and Gull Lake, both of which have established zebra mussel populations. 

Doll's study was done in partnership with Tonka Bay Marina, the Minnesota DNR and Brunswick Boats.

Doll wanted to find out how many zebra mussel larvae are trapped when boats are pulled from the water.

"We don't have a lot of data about boats leaving accesses from a real-world perspective. We wanted to look at boats that were following all the state laws-- so they're cleaning everything off and they're draining all their equipment. We wanted to look at what happens next," Doll said.

Doll determined all boats retain water even after they're drained, but the tiny larvae left behind does not survive for long. He concluded the number of aquatic hitch-hikers could be greatly reduced if boat designs were changed to seal compartments and improve drainage.

"The more you can minimize the water that's captured inside, whether it's an engine or a live well or a ballast tank, then the greater the reduction of risk on moving veligers alive from place to place," he said.

Doll recently presented his research to the American Boating and Yacht Council and he got a favorable response.

"I truly believe there's buy-in," said Tonka Bay Marina owner and ABYC member, Gabe Jabour. "And there are standards now being written and that have been accepted by the industry."

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Jabour has been pushing for research to prove new boat designs make sense. And he doesn't think it will make boats more expensive.

"I don't believe this will cost more money for a new boat owner. They probably will cost the same, except maintenance will be less. It would reduce warranty claims and use less anti-freeze and fresh water to flush boats," he said.

Jabour says consumer demand will drive boat design changes. It's kind of like when hybrid and electric cars were introduced. People bought them, so they made more. If customers want environmentally friendly boats, manufacturers will make them.

Experts agree keeping boats, trailers and motors clean are keys to preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. This is what people should do to control spread of AIS.

Boaters can have courtesy decontaminations done at dozens of locations around the state. The decontamination units and DNR authorized watercraft inspectors can help you comply with invasive species laws and reduce the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species.

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Kevin Doran

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