Local research divers survey Harding Lake, no sign of Elodea yet

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska Elodea is an invasive water plant that can form a tangled mess in lakes and ponds. Local divers were surveying Harding Lake this week to see if they found any evidence of the invasive plant.

The team went out all this week surveying Harding Lake and have not found any traces of Elodea. They say that if they "clear" the lake, meaning they found no Elodea, they hope to post educational signs so that they can keep Harding Lake Elodea free.

Dive Shop 'Test the Waters' in North Pole, has partnered with Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District and other state entities such as Alaska Department of Fish and Game, to survey water bodies that may have Elodea that was found in the interior in the Chena Slough in 2010.

Elodea can only grow to a depth of 20 feet so they focused on surveying the area by the shore that is at shallow depths. In the areas where the boat can see to the bottom, the boat will zig-zag back and forth looking for Elodea, while the divers cover a depth from about 15 to 20 feet looking for the plant. According to one of the volunteer divers Jack DeFabio, Elodea has not been found deeper than 18 feet, so they cover to 20 feet to be thorough.

Dive Instructor with Test the Waters, Mitch Osborne, says right now they're not sure how many water bodies Elodea is currently in.

"If Elodea is found in a spot that has a lot of activity, boating, float planes, that's a potential vector site that could potentially spread Elodea into other parts of the interior. We're really trying to nail down the distribution of this plant, and also let people know this plant is not wanted and shouldn't be in Alaska, so we're hoping we can get the educational material and the outreach to the point where a lot of people in the interior know what this plant is and that we shouldn't be moving it around and we better keep an eye out to make sure we don't see it anywhere else," said Osborne.

When Elodea is present in a lake, it takes over and could potentially fill up the water body according to Osborne. From fall of 2018 to spring of this year, Osborne says a small section of Elodea they found in Bathing Beauty Pond has nearly tripled in area coverage. He says it is also in Chena lakes.

All of the research divers volunteered their hours to work on this surveying project. "I'm volunteering as a diver and as a concerned citizen, I really want to make sure that our waterways stay Elodea free, this plant is a huge threat to boating and to our waterways, and to the biodiversity of the Interior, not only plants but also fish and other habitat," said volunteer scientific diver Juliette Funck.

One of the volunteers, Peter Liam, flew all the way from New York City for this project. After scuba diving under ice in February with Test the Waters Liam was told about this project and wanted to travel back for it.

There were two dive teams so that they could switch off, Team A and B, to give each diver a break from the strenuous diving. Due to the cold temperature of the water, divers have dry suits, weight belts to weigh them down so they don't float to the top. Each team will dive for 20-30 minutes at a time, covering about a quarter of a mile of coastline and then they change out their tanks of air and gear, while the other team dives.

The team went out all this week surveying Harding Lake and have not found any traces of Elodea. They say that if they "clear" the lake, meaning they found no Elodea, they hope to post educational signs so that they can keep Harding Lake Elodea free.

"I think this is going to be a huge and communal effort to make sure that Elodea doesn't become a major problem in the interior. We've seen areas where its congested waterways, made it impossible for people to take their boats out, it will clog motors, make it impossible to paddle through, and really destroy salmon habitat. As Alaskans, as Interior Alaskans, we really care about our salmon habitat and our boating and our recreation, so seeing areas where people are highly motivated is really encouraging that we can get the upper hand on this," said Funck.

After five days of diving, the team says there has not been any Elodea found in Harding Lake, so now they want the community to help keep it Elodea free.

For more information on how to keep bodies of water in Alaska Elodea free:

http://plants.alaska.gov/invasives/elodea.htm