Volunteer to protect Minnesota lakes from aquatic invasive species

Link Lavey lives on the shore of Lake Demontreville and takes pride in being out on the lake every day, whether it’s on a paddleboard, kayak, or pontoon. “Ever since the pandemic hit, there has been a big increase in the number of people out on the lakes,” Lavey says. “It’s great to see so many of these new enthusiastic boaters, and I’m hoping that they’ll get engaged to help protect the lake for future generations.”

Link Lavey talks with community residents in Lake Elmo during a lake association event.

When he retired, Lavey became president of the Lake Demontreville and Olson Association and turned his attention to the threat posed by aquatic invasive species (AIS). Aquatic invasive species are nonnative plants and animals that disrupt aquatic food webs and cause environmental and economic damage. Existing AIS in Washington County include Eurasian watermilfoil, curly-leaf pondweed, zebra mussels, and flowering rush. There are also a few AIS found elsewhere in Minnesota that have not yet reached our area. These include spiny waterflea, a tiny animal found in several lakes up north that has been shown to dramatically impact fish populations, and starry stonewort, a macro algae that was first found in Lake Koronis in 2015 and has since spread to 19 Minnesota waterbodies.

Link Lavey shows off an aquatic plant found in Lake Demontreville.

Five years ago, Lavey got trained as an AIS Detector, through a program offered by the University of Minnesota. Volunteers participate in an on-line course and in-person workshop, where they learn how to identify and report common aquatic invasives. Once certified, these volunteers serve as ambassadors in their communities, talking with friends and neighbors, and watching for potential new infestations.

For lake-lovers who care about AIS but can’t make the time commitment required to become an AIS Detector, the University also hosts a one day event in August that focuses on starry stonewort specifically. During Starry Trek, scheduled this year for Aug. 20, volunteers gather at training sites to learn how to identify starry stonewort and then head out to local water accesses to search for signs of the invasive species.

Since the annual event first started, Starry Trek volunteers have found starry stonewort in four Minnesota lakes – Grand Lake in Stearns County, Wolf Lake at the Hubbard/Beltrami County border, Lake Beltrami in Beltrami County, and Carnelian Lake in Stearns County. Volunteers have also identified new infestations of Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels.

Starry stonewort forms a dense, vertically thick mat that completely covers the lake bottom.

“This event is a terrific way for people to get outdoors, get educated about aquatic invasive species, and help protect their area lakes,” said Megan Weber, Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. “The information we gain helps researchers and managers understand starry stonewort’s current distribution and potentially take action if new infestations are found.”

There are currently 25 Starry Trek training sites around the state that will be participating in the Aug. 20 event. These include sites in Woodbury (Menomini Park), Maplewood (Ramsey County Parks & Recreation Building), and North Branch (Central Park). No experience or equipment is necessary and the event is free. Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. To learn more and register, visit starrytrek.org.