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Elodea surveys are right around the corner

CIAA begins keeping watch for Alaska's first invasive plant as the area's lakes warm up. Learn how elodea surveys improve salmon habitat.

by | March 8, 2023

A yellow rake with elodea clinging to it.
If any rake throws turn up elodea during surveys you should switch to determining the extent of the infestation and make sure it get reported as soon as possible. Dan Coleman, Alaska Department of Natural Resources

Spring is knocking on our door. With more sunlight and warmer waters, lakes will be ice-free before we know it. It’s time to start planning elodea surveys for the upcoming season.

Elodea is Alaska’s first aquatic invasive plant and it can wreak havoc on any ecosystem it establishes itself in. Eradication of elodea can be quite expensive. And it can spread from small fragments so if it’s not entirely eliminated from infested systems the odds are good that it will bounce back. Elodea tends to outcompete native vegetation and it grows so thick that it can displace native fish species like salmon. Overall elodea is not something you’d want in your lake.

Unwelcome intruder

Resource managers recognize the threat elodea poses to our native flora and fauna. There are multiple groups and organizations such as the Alaska Invasive Species Partnership and the Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area that bring partners together to work towards the goal of stopping the spread of invasive species.

Current invasions loom as potential source populations for elodea to spread throughout the state. Early detection surveys and public reports of suspected invasive species are key ways that new infestations are discovered.

The primary view when conducting surveys from a pack raft.
The primary view when conducting surveys from a pack raft. Emily Heale, CIAA

Survey methods

There are a lot of different ways to conduct elodea surveys: two people in one boat, snorkel surveys, or individuals in their own boats. Staff here at Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) have conducted surveys with two people in a motorized boat and with two people in separate pack rafts.

When you have two people in one boat, one person drives to each survey point along the shoreline and the other throws the vegetation rake at each site. The two work as a team during the surveys. In between the predetermined sampling points both crew members will be visually inspecting the shoreline for elodea.

They have the option to complete as many additional rake throws as they want, so if there is ever any question about the vegetation seen they can toss the rake and get it up close to identify it with the use of a guide.

A crew member completes a visual inspection while traveling between points.
A crew member completes a visual inspection while traveling between points. CIAA

You’re going to need another raft

Surveying with two people in their own separate pack rafts allows for two elodea surveys on the same waterbody at the same time. This is accomplished by both people inflating their pack rafts and heading in opposite directions around the lake.

They each have the same predetermined sites loaded into a GPS where they will stop to throw the vegetation rake. In between sites they visually inspect the shoreline, and similar to the last method they can throw the rake as much as they deem necessary to feel confident in identification. This method allows for a higher likelihood of identifying elodea if it is present in the waterbody.

At the end of any survey it’s important to ensure that all gear is cleaned and all plant fragments removed. The best thing to do is clean, drain, and dry all equipment before moving it to another waterbody. Cleaning equipment with a 10% bleach solution is essential to ensure that nothing can be spread between lake systems on your sampling gear.

Identifying native vegetation during and elodea survey on Trapper Lake.
Identifying native vegetation during and elodea survey on Trapper Lake. Emily Heale, CIAA

Which method is best?

Different factors determine the type of survey. Is the lake on the road system or is it remote, requiring a flight or hike in? What type of boat is available for the survey? What is the crew’s level of experience? What is the size of the lake?

Pack rafts are smaller and easy to transport to lakes that are remote and require a hike or a flight to get to them. It’s relatively easy to trailer motorized boats to road system lakes that have boat launches, but that doesn’t mean a pack raft survey can’t be conducted on those lakes too.

Crews on larger lakes with limited time may be able to cover more ground working together in a single boat versus both in pack rafts. When training new crew members it makes sense to conduct the elodea survey together so they become familiar with the process before heading off on their own for a survey.

After the surveys

During any type of elodea survey it’s important to record your findings and report them to the Alaska Exotic Plants Information Clearinghouse. This clearinghouse stores all reported survey results for the state, so it’s important to send survey results in so everyone can remain up to date on current survey efforts.

If at any time during the survey, elodea or another invasive species is found the survey should switch to determining the extent of the infestation and mapping it as well as you can to report it to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

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