Surveying AIS on Minnesota’s Lakes!

I have completed my training and am officially an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Detector for the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC)! So now what? Well, now I must complete a minimum of 25 volunteer hours this year.

Volunteer Options

There’s lot of options for how to complete your volunteer time. They highlighted citizen science, education/outreach, stewardship, and program support as the main categories. After finishing my training, I started receiving regular email communication about different opportunities that I could be a part of throughout the state. I was getting a little discouraged because it seemed like many of the events from a fish project to tabling at fairs were at least an hour away from St Paul or required gear like waders which I don’t have. One option that is always available to us is to conduct AIS surveys on our own. This month I created my own sampling rake and surveyed on Lake Como!

Sampling Rake

One simple piece of equipment that you can use to help identify AIS is a sampling rake. The AIS Detectors program did not supply us with sampling rakes but gave us instructions on how to make one. The materials needed are two garden rakes, duct tape, zip ties, and at least 30 feet of rope (around a cord caddy). They estimated the cost to be about $20, but mine ended up around $25 plus another $10 for a saw.

The steps to make the sampling rake were really easy except the very first step. The instructions simply said “1. If your garden rakes come with handles, remove them.” Well how do I do that? My garden rakes had no screws or anything connecting the wooden part from the metal part. I then googled how to, tried different things, but was successful when I finally bought a hand saw in order to saw the wooden handles off. From there you simply put the rakes back to back, zip tie them together, and duct tape the handles with one end of the rope. After figuring out the sawing step, it only took about five minutes to create the beauty seen below!

Surveying at Lake Como

Alright, now I’ve been trained on what to do and have my sampling rake, so it’s time to actually get my hands dirty! I decided to start close to home and just go to Lake Como to survey. There were no current reports of any AIS from the DNR in Lake Como, so I chose to do two different locations on the lake. As AIS Detectors, we can survey from public spaces, so I chose a dock and a shoreline spot with benches. My first time surveying for AIS was super fun, slimy, smelly, and challenging! To use the sampling rake, you uncoil some of the rope and toss the rake in while holding the caddy. Then you pull the rake back in and see what it brings with it! Below are two videos showing the rake in action! One shows my first attempt where I did not have enough string uncoiled, so the rake snapped back out of view. Oh well. After more practice, you can see in the second video that I’m getting the hang of it! (with cues from my photographer/videographer Carsten – thanks again for your help!)

Once you pull the rake back in though, the hard part begins. Look at this pile of plants – it’s so hard to try and pick out what something is and identify it correctly! Everything is all mixed together and falling apart and covered in mud and slime.

I gave it my best effort and spent about two hours picking apart piles of aquatic plants and snails trying to figure out what they were. My waterproof AIS Detector guide was incredibly useful as seen below!

It was really beautiful out on the lake sometimes and really slimy and gross sometimes.

My beautiful rake is well used now. A reminder that if you use anything on one of Minnesota’s beautiful lakes to CLEAN, DRAIN, DISPOSE. I had quite a few little hitchhikers (snails) on my sampling rake after one throw, so imagine what can get on your boat or other materials! Read more from the DNR at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/preventspread_watercraft.html

Summary

AIS Detectors are not experts! Our job is to help survey the incredible amount of water that is in our state. If we find anything suspicious, we submit a report to the AIS specialist with the DNR for our region. They follow up and take next steps if needed. Eventually it would be communicated to the public and reported on the infested waters list (https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/ais/infested.html). In the entire state of Minnesota, there are 10 AIS specialists! Think of the amount of water they are trying to cover. I walked away from even my two hours on the lake feeling accomplished. Four months ago, I could not even tell you what native plants and animals are in our lakes, much less survey and identify native versus aquatic species. Today I actively contributed to efforts to protect the Minnesota water bodies that I enjoy so much! Thank you so much MAISRC for having this opportunity and Como Friends for funding my involvement!