state park

Boaters take to Lake Havasu on Thursday, as Havasu sees a surge in new watercraft owners amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Lake Havasu City’s boating industry reported a surge in sales this year, and many of those boats have ended up in the hands of new boat owners. But now those boaters are learning about the possible threat lurking beneath the waves: The invasive quagga mussel.

As of last week, boat dealers in Havasu say a large percentage of sales involved first-time boat buyers. According to a June report by the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, 70% of boat sellers throughout the U.S. reported industry growth last month, with May figures representing about 16% of annual watercraft sales. Pontoons appear to be among retailers’ most popular watercraft, the report said, and the ongoing coronavirus epidemic may have shifted those “undecided” about purchasing a boat to do so.

“(Coronavirus) appears to have pushed fence sitters and dreamers off the fence,” the report quoted one of its contributors.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the agency dispensed 1,309 new boating registrations last month — a 28% growth in new Arizona boaters since May 2019. Those new boaters are now venturing to Lake Havasu State Park, which controls three of the region’s most popular launch ramps. Park officials have taken efforts to educate those new boaters on safety, as well as Arizona’s ongoing fight against quagga mussels and other aquatic invasive species.

Lake Havasu State Park has designated areas for boaters to wipe down and drain their boats after exiting the water, and regular visitors have been helping to show new watercraft owners how best to prevent the potential spread of quagga mussels.

According to Lake Havasu State Park Manager Dan Roddy, the park has experienced record turnout every day this month, and the park’s decontamination facility has seen regular use throughout the summer boating season. As of this week, the park has seen about twice as many boaters at its launch ramps as it did in June 2019, he said.

“Most of our regular boaters have really built ‘Clean, Drain and Dry’ into their routine, and we’ve seen a steady use of our decontamination facility. But we’ve seen an influx of first-time users and first-time boaters, and we’re giving them a lot of educational material. Proper boating etiquette is a part of that.”

Quagga mussels were first detected in Lake Havasu more than a decade ago, and can easily spread to other bodies of water through cross-contamination without precaution. The invasive mollusk species can reproduce rapidly, with each female able to produce about 1 million larvae per year. In such vast numbers, they can attach themselves to the hulls, rotors and even the insides of watercraft; or clog most manmade pipes and water systems.

When boaters fail to clean potentially contaminated watercraft after a holiday on Lake Havasu, those mussels could potentially be transferred to other bodies of water in future boating excursions.

Arizona Game and Fish officials routinely inspect watercraft in Arizona for signs of quagga mussel infestation. The states of Utah, California and Nevada have taken similar measures to protect their waters – and if left unchecked, quagga populations can rapidly expand into new territory.

Quagga mussels were first discovered at Lake Mead, 132 miles north of Havasu, in 2007. There, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say the species were introduced to the lake by boaters at Las Vegas Boat Harbor. Since then, quagga mussels have spread to almost every area of Lake Mead further south to Lake Mohave.

State and federal agencies have long urged boaters to clean, drain and dry their watercraft after leaving Arizona’s open waters to prevent future occurrences from taking place.

“Awareness campaigns are making a difference, and we provide a lot of educational literature for free,” Roddy said.

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