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Boat inspector may have kept starry stonewort out of Lake Superior

A boat being launched in Two Harbors had been in infested Bowen Lake in Cass County.

starry stonewort
A closeup of starry stonewort, an aquatic invasive species that has spread in several Minnesota lakes. The weed-like algae grows fast in 2-22 feet of water, and grows so thick that boating, fishing and swimming become nearly impossible.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR
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TWO HARBORS — A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources watercraft inspector working at the Agate Bay boat landing on Lake Superior in Two Harbors recently saw what appeared to be grass in the water intake of a boat motor.

Upon closer examination, the inspector noticed a small star-shaped plant called indicate starry stonewort, a highly invasive species expanding in Minnesota.

The boat owner said the boat had been on Bowen Lake in Cass County the previous weekend. Starry stonewort was confirmed on Bowen Lake in August.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has confirmed the invasive algae starry stonewort in Bowen Lake, near Backus in Cass County and in Turtle River Lake, near the city of Turtle River in Beltrami County.

The inspector then used the decontamination station on-site to ensure the invasive species was removed before the boat entered Lake Superior.

It’s not clear if the invasive algae (that looks like a weed with a tiny white flower-like bulbils) would thrive in the big lake, but no one wants to find out. The incident occurred in September.

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File: Starry stonewort
Starry stonewort shown in Minnesota's Leech Lake.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

“If not for the vigilance of this DNR watercraft inspector, starry stonewort would have been introduced to Lake Superior,” said Adam Doll, DNR watercraft inspection program coordinator. “This incident is just one example of how the DNR, our partners, volunteers and vigilant Minnesotans work together to prevent the spread of invasives. It also reminds everyone to carefully inspect watercraft when they leave any water body or face a fine and the possibility of spreading invasive species to a new lake.”

Nearly 900 watercraft inspectors were hired in Minnesota this year and trained by the DNR. This included about 800 local government watercraft inspectors and 100 DNR inspectors. DNR conservation officers also assist with watercraft inspections statewide.

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Starry stonewort has been confirmed in 23 water bodies in Minnesota. It was first confirmed in Minnesota in 2015. In late summer and early fall, starry stonewort’s small, white, star-shaped bulbils become more visible, making it easier to distinguish from other aquatic plants. Information on how to identify starry stonewort can be found at mndnr.gov/Invasives/AquaticPlants/StarryStonewort .

Starry stonewort is an algae that looks like native aquatic plants and can form dense mats, which can interfere with recreational uses of a lake and compete with native plants. It is most likely spread when fragments have not been properly cleaned from trailered boats, personal watercraft, docks, boat lifts, anchors or other water-related equipment.

The DNR urges all boaters to remove all weeds from trailers and to clean and drain their boat and trailer of all water — such as live wells and bilge areas — and let them dry between visits to different lakes or rivers. Any leftover bait should be disposed of in trash containers at boat landings.

Anyone who thinks they’ve found starry stonewort, or any other invasive species new to a lake or river, should report it to the DNR by contacting their area invasive species specialist found at mndnr.gov/Invasives/AIS/Contacts.html .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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