Assessing outreach efforts on recreational boaters to reduce aquatic invasive species
The spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) in freshwater ecosystems is a shared concern for scientists, resource managers and private citizens. Spread of these invaders can reduce native biodiversity, impede recreational activity and cause large financial losses. Recreational water users serve as secondary vectors of AIS spread as species can become attached to boats and equipment. Extensive outreach efforts have focused on boater behavior to encourage prevention practices such as visually inspecting equipment and watercraft as they are pulled out of the water. Although outreach programs are widespread, little research has assessed whether they effectively change boater behaviors. Here, we have focused on the U.S. state of Illinois to determine which outreach approaches are most effective at changing boater behaviors, and which influential populations of boaters could be effectively targeted for outreach. We used two main data collection methods targeting the Northeastern, Northwestern, and Southern regions of Illinois. First, we interviewed personnel from 14 agencies that conduct outreach in Illinois to determine what AIS information they distribute and in what regions of Illinois they focus their outreach efforts. Second, we mailed a survey to 6,000 registered boaters in these regions to determine their knowledge of AIS, the prevention practices they perform, what outreach resources they have found most useful and what water bodies they visited during the summer of 2013.
Of the 14 outreach managers interviewed, 79% of managers stated that the Northeastern region is “Very Important” (i.e., outreach activities are targeted in this region more than 75% of the time) to target for outreach activities such as passing out AIS information cards at boat launches. However, only 21% and 29% of outreach managers rated the Northwestern and Southern regions as “Very Important” to target for their outreach initiatives. Boater survey data indicated that 62% of respondents travel to multiple waterbodies inside and outside of Illinois. In the Northeastern region, 41% practice specific prevention practices and 44% of traveling boaters practice prevention practices in the Northwestern and Southern regions. When asked about 14 specific AIS species, 50%, 42% and 41% of traveling boaters knew about the invaders listed in our survey. As traveling boaters have a higher propensity to spread AIS into lakes throughout Illinois and potentially to surrounding states, it is crucial for outreach agencies to focus AIS information to these individuals in order to more effectively slow the spread of these invaders.