By DANIELLE JAMES
Capital News Service
LANSING — For most Great Lakes beachgoers, zebra mussels are a minor inconvenience, mostly when they’re stepped on.
But for Michigan boaters and businesses, they can be an expensive problem.
The mussels were first introduced into Lake St. Clair in the late 1980s and have since colonized every inland lake in Michigan.
They can clog water intake pipes, causing the need for expensive cleanups. But the mussels also disrupt food webs and lead to toxic algae blooms.
Zebra mussels aren’t the only unwanted visitors. There are over 160 non-native aquatic species residing in the Great Lakes.
With new invaders a constant threat, Michigan is offering grants for invasive species outreach.
The Clean Boats, Clean Waters program is providing $25,691 to fund programs educating boaters about the introduction and transfer of invasive species, according to MSU Extension, a co-creator of the program.
Grants are available to buy removal supplies, like sponges and towels, or host events teaching boaters how to properly clean off invasive species, according to a Department of Natural Resources press release.
Grants range from $1,000 to $3,000 and are also available to raise awareness of how aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels, sea lamprey and bloody red shrimp are introduced and spread. This can be done through signs and material distribution, said Kelsey Bockelman, an aquatic invasive species educator through MSU Extension.
“The types of projects funded by our Clean Boats Clean Waters grant program provide tangible results for preventing the spread of both established and new aquatic invasive species,” Bockelman said. “Past projects have used it in a variety of ways, including decontamination stations with hand removal tools, outreach events on regional lakes, as well as information into magazines and newsletters.”
A new aquatic invasive species arrives in the Great Lakes every eight months, according to Sea Grant Michigan, a joint program between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Nearly 30% of those species arrive in the Great Lakes accidentally in the ballast tanks of ships, according to the program. Others are the result of unwanted fish or plants improperly released from aquariums, and human travel can result in introduction as well.
The grant funding is entering its second year and expects many applications, Bockelman said.
“Since we have only ran it for one full season, we only have a few projects to go off for this,” Bockelman said. “We have not yet received any applications yet, as it does take some time to put together an application, as well as for lake associations to meet up to plan out their grant.”
Bockelman said funding would be prioritized by the expected reach to boaters in local communities.
“Applications that meet our specific grant requirements and have created a strategic plan for outreach events and material distribution will be more competitive than others,” Bockelman said. “We may also rank applications off geographic range, so not having two projects at the same lake, overall impact of suggested project and the expected reach of the project to the local community and boaters.”
Applications are due by Dec. 17, and grant winners will be notified in February, she said.
Several programs through the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy that provide aquatic invasive species education, said Kevin Walters, an aquatic biologist specializing in invasive species for the department.
“We also routinely provide signage and printed materials to groups wanting to implement aquatic invasive species outreach,” Walters said.
The department co-founded the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program.
Other programs through the department include a mobile boat washing initiative and a volunteer training to watch for invasive species in lakes across the state.
However, purchase and maintenance of boat washing stations aren’t eligible expenses for grant funding, according to MSU Extension.