Invasive Species Pose Threat to Lake George

Amanda Powers

Lake George is a 32 mile long lake located in the Adirondacks. It is surrounded by forest covered mountains on all sides, providing it with immeasurable beauty. The mountains that encompass the lake, do not only provide it with it’s captivating beauty but are also responsible for creating a watershed that grants additional protection from pollutants and degradation. Lake George is rated as an AA Special waterbody; this ensures that the water maintains its purity and remains pristine. The lake’s superb cleanliness and beauty renders it a popular tourist destination. In the summer people from all over gather to hike, swim, fish and boat. The doubling of Lake George’s population during the summer months is correlated to the surge of boaters on the lake. Unfortunately, the rise in water traffic causes Lake George to become more susceptible to invading species.

Currently, Lake George is home to six nonnative species. The Lake George Association claims that the Chinese Mystery Snail, Eurasian watermilfoil, curly leaf pondweed, zebra mussel, Asian clam and spiny water flea have been introduced into the waters with devastating consequences. Invasive species are often able to attach themselves to the hulls of a boat or are present in the ballast water of ships which is then released into the next harbor. They may also be transported by means of fishing equipment, animals, bait stocking or being released into nonnative environments. Many nonnative species are able to outcompete the indigenous species because they lack a formal niche in their new habitat. Therefore, they are not subjected to predators or diseases that might keep their population confined to the normal carrying capacity. For this reason, invasive species are often able to flourish in new habitats. Lake George is no exception, the invasive species have had their populations explode thereby, interrupting the balance of life in this magnificent body of water.

Asian clams are a nonnative species that has been introduced into Lake George. These clams have high reproductive rates, causing them to quickly outcompete native bivalves such as the fingernail clam. The first report done in 2010, claimed that these clams exhibited a population density of approximately 600 clams per square meter. Other bodies of waters that have reported the presence of these nonnative species, have experienced the problem of biofouling, in which the abundance of clams have caused water intake pipes to become clogged. Biofouling is a nuisance that can become costly, proving how problematic invasive species can be for the economy.

Eurasian watermilfoil is an aggressively growing plant species that grows in the limnetic zone. As a result, it is able to crowd out the needed sunlight and deter the growth of native plants. As the Eurasian watermilfoil becomes more plentiful, the native species begin to falter. This disrupts the food web of the lake and causes endemic plant and animal populations to decline. This particular plant species encompasses the top layer of the lake, posing a threat to tourism. Those who come to Lake George for the purpose of swimming, boating, kayaking and fishing may be discouraged by the great amounts of milfoil. In order to guarantee profit from the influx of tourists for future summers, the Lake George Association devised a plan to harvest sites inhabited by this milfoil. As of January 2014, a little less than 60,000 pounds of milfoil was removed from 5 locations throughout Lake George. According to the Lake George Association, milfoil harvesting must take place annually in order to limit growth. If growth is not regulated Lake George may suffer both ecologically and economically from the consequential complications of Eurasian watermilfoil.

The curly leaf pondweed was brought into Lake George in the 1880s. Unlike most plants, it has a growth period that is not within the normal time frame. This plant starts growing early in the spring and completes its life cycle in the middle of the summer. This produces an additional threat to the native aquatic plants because it has already consumed vital resources. As the plants end their life cycles, oxygen is depleted from the lake harming fish populations. The resulting decomposition increases nutrients in the surrounding water which can lead to algal blooms as well. These examples demonstrate the multitude of effects that  invasive species have on the wellbeing of an ecosystem.

The Chinese Mystery snail was discovered in Lake George in 2011. Currently, little is known about this particular invasive species; its exact whereabouts in Lake George remain unknown. However, the Lake George Association hopes to educate people before it dominates the lake as observed by other invasive species. If numbers do show a steady incline, native snail species will be put at risk. As with the Asian clams, the Chinese Mystery snail may result in biofouling as well as the spread of parasites and diseases. Transmittance of new diseases and unfamiliar parasites will prove to be disastrous to the susceptible, native populations.

Despite being small (an average of 1 inch in length), zebra mussels have the capability of wreaking havoc on Lake George. They rely on phytoplankton as their main source of nutrients. Removing large quantities of phytoplankton from the water not only prevents other organisms from consuming this free floating algae and bacteria, but increases water clarity as well. An increase in penetrability can stimulate growth of Eurasian watermilfoil. Zebra mussels proliferate on man-made structures and can ruin docks and boats. They can infiltrate pipes and pumps causing serious damage to houses and boats. Furthermore, they are able to adhere to the shells of native species, preventing them from obtaining adequate food and essentially suffocating them. The health of Lake George is in peril if zebra mussel populations fail to get under control.

Lastly, the spiny water flea is the sixth known invasive species that inhabits Lake George. Unlike the other invasive species mentioned, Lake George lacks any plan as how to counteract the spread of this organism. However, without preventative measures small fish populations will go extinct. The spiny water flea relies on zooplankton as its main food source-- putting it in direct competition with certain fish populations in the lake. The barbs that are located along their tail act as a deterrence from being easy prey. The threat that these crustaceans have on other zooplankton populations can hinder the lake’s entire food chain.

Invasive organisms are disrupting the lake’s ecological system. Thankfully, the Lake George Association has taken initiative by enacting measures to prevent the spread of additional invasive species into these waters. The Lake George Lake Steward program is responsible for conducting boat inspections prior to any boat entering the lake. The stewards inspect and wash the boats before they are allowed to be unloaded into the lake. The Lake George Park Commission also implemented actions to counteract the abundance of milfoil in the lake. Divers were responsible for removing milfoil in areas where it was most prevalent as well as areas in which it had a possibility of becoming a threat. The Department of Environmental Conservation received a large sum of money to combat the arrival of additional unwelcome species as well as to decrease current populations. Preventative steps and education are necessary in order to guarantee the superior water quality of the lake. Without the high standard of water quality, the Lake George Village will suffer economically. Drops in tourism throughout the summer months will have a devastating impact on revenue that the town depends on. Therefore, the education, prevention and maintenance of invasive species is essential for Lake George both economically and ecologically.

Works Cited