Mobile Boat Wash and Clean Boats Help Deter Aquatic Invasive Species Spread

By Kelsey Bockelman and Lois Wolfson, Michigan State University Extension

As the new Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Educator with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, Kelsey Bockelman is taking steps to help reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species through two programs, the MSU Mobile Boat Wash and Michigan Clean Boats, Clean Waters.

Image by Paige Filice

The Mobile Boat Wash’s mission is to slow the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) through direct education and outreach to boaters and anglers at boat launches. The program is a multi-agency partnership between MSU Extension, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Huron-Manistee Forests of the US Forest Service. The mobile boat wash program also falls under the umbrella of the Michigan Clean Boats, Clean Waters program.

Originally launched in 2014, the program has run every summer since – except for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The mobile boat wash program is typically made up of two separate crews, each running their own trailer-mounted, hot pressure washers providing free boat washes across Michigan. The washers are pressurized at 1500 psi and are run at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit above the ambient air temperature. The largest of the washer tanks can hold up to 200 gallons of water, while the smaller tanks can hold 150 gallons. No soap or chemicals are added to the water. Runoff water is captured on a containment mat, which can then be vacuumed back into the filter box to either be recycled and reused or properly disposed of.

“Our crews provide hands-on demonstrations of boat decontamination to prevent the spread of AIS as well as talk with boaters about these invasive species and the simple steps they can take to help protect Michigan’s waters. Crews come with an extensive library of AIS outreach materials and messaging to share with partners and boaters,” said Bockelman.

Image by Paige Filice

The program to date has had over 12,000 contacts across the state. During the 2021 season, the mobile boat wash program ran one single crew that went to 46 boat launches, connected with over 1,500 people, and washed over 330 boats. Approximately 150 boats had some type of AIS hitchhiker on them. Notably, the invasive species that were found the most on boats and trailers included Eurasian watermilfoil, starry stonewort, curly leaf pondweed, and zebra mussels.

With funding from the EGLE and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Clean Boats, Clean Waters (CBCW) has grown into a comprehensive aquatic invasive species boater outreach program. The CBCW carries the message of reminding boaters to clean, drain, and dry their equipment to prevent the spread of AIS and dispose of unwanted bait in the trash. The program has educated water recreationists, boaters, and others on steps they can take to limit and prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

In 2021, for the first time since the program began, CBCW was able to fund seven local organizations for a total of $19,800. While the contract phase is still finishing for the 2022 applicants, the CBCW program was able to award $25,691 to 12 different groups. Funds are being used to hold boat washing events; install signage at boat access sites; produce a video demonstrating proper boat cleaning techniques; develop educational materials; and apply parking lot stencils with messaging about AIS prevention at various boating access sites. MSU Extension, in cooperation with EGLE, leads the overall program.

Kelsey Bockelman, Aquatic Invasive Species Educator, Michigan State University Extension

Kelsey BockelmanKelsey Bockelman is an aquatic invasive species educator with Michigan State University Extension and a fisheries biologist by trade. Her responsibilities are overseeing and coordinating the aquatic invasive species outreach programs Clean Boats, Clean Water and the Mobile Boat Wash crew. Kelsey’s main focus is on preventing new aquatic invasive species introductions as well as wise use, protection, and restoration of Michigan’s freshwater ecosystems. Kelsey has an M.S. in Environmental Science from Alaska Pacific University through the Fisheries, Aquatic Science, and Technology Laboratory program and a B.S. in Biology with a concentration on Animal Biology from Grand Valley State University. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and metalsmithing!

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