The R/V Folger, Middlebury’s newly acquired 48- foot research vessel, arrived home in Lake Champlain on September 9th after four weeks of traveling up the eastern seaboard. To complete the last leg of the trip, The Folger had to pass through the Champlain Canal, which has recently been discovered as a potential conduit for the spiny water flea, a tiny invasive species present in Lake George and the Hudson River watershed.
The spiny water flea disrupts ecosystems by consuming the food sources of native fish. In response to this potential threat, preemptive measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the organism into Lake Champlain. Vermont Senator, Patrick Leahy, asked the State of New York to close the Champlain Canal, however, scientists still fear the spiny water flea will contaminate the ecosystem of Lake Champlain if proper precautions are not taken when traveling between the bodies of water.
Protocols do not exist in the state of New York or Vermont requiring a thorough disinfection of vessels after traveling in contaminated waters, a problem that concerns Middlebury’s Dean of Environmental Affairs Nan Jenks-Jay, “We hope to see a new regulation or protocol for disinfecting all vessels entering Lake Champlain in the future to minimize the impact of invasives which are having a devastating effect on the lake’s ecosystem”.
Middlebury called for a thorough washing of the boat before traveling through the canal. On September 8th, the Folger stopped in Fort Edwards where it underwent a three-hour cleaning process arranged by Senator Leahy’s office, the Vermont State Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, and a state water toxicologist. An ecofriendly soap solution disinfected the hull while creating a slippery surface to which species could not cling. The crew cleaned the bilge tanks with bleach and water and washed the ropes and maps with chorine on shore.
“Middlebury College set an example,” says said Jenks-Jay, “of responsible stewardship of Lake Champlain by voluntarily disinfecting the vessel”. Jenks-Jay hopes that by demonstrating conscious behavior such as this, others will follow suite. As this event demonstrates, if we act fast, collaborate with others, and think creatively to find solutions, we can better protect and preserve our ecosystems.
The 'floating laboratory' is currently used for four Middlebury College science classes on Lake Champlain and expands research and learning opportunities for students, faculty, and members of the local educational community.
For more information about the R/V Folger see http://blogs.middlebury.edu/researchvessel/.