Be a hero – help prevent the spread of invaders in Illinois!
by Sarah Zack, Aquatic Invasive Species Specialist
Some of Illinois’ greatest natural treasures are Lake Michigan and the many inland lakes and rivers. These waters are home for hundreds of fish, invertebrate, waterfowl and plant species, and they provide recreational opportunities and beautiful natural vistas for the people of Illinois to enjoy. Illinois’ waters also provide a significant boost to our economy, since aquatic recreation is a favorite pastime of people all over the state. Most people are probably already aware that invasive species – non-native plants, animals, or pathogens that cause harm to natural areas – have long been recognized as a serious economic and environmental threat. Aquatic invasive species (AIS) can severely impede some of our favorite outdoor activities – Asian carp in the Illinois River can make waterskiing impossible, Eurasian watermilfoil infestations can choke waterways and make swimming difficult, round gobies can decimate smallmouth bass and crappie recruitment; the list goes on and on. In general, people are well aware of the potential negative impacts of AIS in their waterways, but what people don’t always know is that they can make a real difference in the fight against these aquatic invaders.
Figure 1: Recreational water user equipment can easily transport aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels.
In collaboration with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) launched Be a Hero-Transport Zero, a statewide outreach campaign designed to raise awareness of AIS prevention.
Figure 2: The campaign logo for Be a Hero-Transport Zero™.
The target of this campaign is recreational water users – boaters, anglers, waterfowl hunters, and others who enjoy Illinois’ waters – who might unknowingly spread these species from one body of water to another. When people trailer their boats or move their gear after a day on the water, they may be carrying AIS that could accidentally be introduced into a new waterbody. The campaign message emphasizes three simple actions to help prevent this from happening—remove plants, animals, and mud from all equipment, drain all water from your boat and gear, and dry everything thoroughly with a towel.
Figure 3: Television commercial promoting the Be A Hero-Transport Zero™ campaign.
Since its widespread release in May 2013, Be a Hero-Transport Zero™ has reached an impressive number of people in Illinois:
- Via in-person events like talks to fishing clubs, booths at boat shows, and the Clean Boats Crew program, over 11,000 recreational water users have been exposed to AIS issues and the ways in which they can prevent the introduction and spread of AIS.
- Television commercials, print ads in Outdoor Illinois News, radio spots statewide on WGN and CBS radio, and online advertising on the Chicago Tribune, NBCSports, and WGN websites resulted in over 150 million exposures to the campaign message.
- The campaign website had over 7,000 visitors, which tells us that many people are motivated to learn more about how they can help prevent the spread of AIS.
This campaign is designed to address the spread of invasive species on land as well. The Be a Hero-Transport Zero™ logo has also been adapted for terrestrial invasive plants (such as garlic mustard) and forest pests (such as the emerald ash borer). Ultimately, Be A Hero-Transport Zero™ will convey a unifying message to anyone who boats, hikes, camps, fishes, or hunts in Illinois that invasive species aren’t good for Illinois’ economy or environment and that their actions can and do make a difference. As the campaign progresses, look for the Be A Hero-Transport Zero™ message at trailheads, on signage, and in hunting guides and pamphlets at natural areas throughout the state.
Figure 4: The complete set of “Be a Hero” AIS prevention campaign logos. From left to right: aquatic transport. terrestrial transport, and release.
To round out our efforts, and truly make “Be a Hero” Illinois’ comprehensive invasive species campaign, we’re also gearing up to launch Be a Hero-Release Zero™. This expansion of the campaign introduces water gardeners, aquarium hobbyists, and others who buy and sell species to safe alternatives to disposing of unwanted plants and animals. Releasing plants and animals into nearby waterways might seem like a humane way to deal with the goldfish that’s outgrown his tank or the plants that have spread too thickly in your water garden, but this action could be unknowingly spreading invaders from one waterbody into another. The Be a Hero-Release Zero™ message encourages gardeners and hobbyists to instead bag and place plants in the trash, find a new home for animals (or seek advice on humane disposal), and disinfect or properly dispose of water.
For more information about the Be a Hero-Transport Zero campaign, visit our website at transportzero.org. Look for information about prevention tips for hikers, campers, and other recreationists, as well as information about the Release Zero campaign coming soon.
Sarah Zack is an aquatic invasive species specialist with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Illinois Natural History Survey. Please check out the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant website for information about aquatic invasive species in Illinois, or contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information