Clear, sapphire, blue, and misty. These words are some of the ones used by alums at Reunion 2011 when they were asked to describe Seneca Lake. But John Halfman, professor of geosciences, would describe the lake as a great home for invasive species.
On Friday, June 3, Halfman took groups of alums aboard the HWS floating research vessel, the William Scandling. The 65-foot boat skimmed the waters of the lake, past the Bozutto Boathouse, until stopping at a point where Halfman began the educational portion of the excursion.
Throughout the two-hour tour, Halfman, the alums and two of Halfman’s research students, Maggie Smith ’12 and Lucia Melara ’14, investigated and discussed various aspects of Seneca Lake including how the lake formed, how it compares to the other Finger Lakes in water quality, what the tourism industry does to water composition of the lake and the invasive speciesthat have shaped the ecosystem and chemistry of the water.
Those on deck got a close up view and hands-on experience of the lakebed where Quagga mussels as Halfman collected a sample of mud from the bottom of the lake with a bucket. Quagga mussles are an invasive species that are native to a river in Ukraine. Halfman explained how the offspring of adult Quagga mussels were transported in the ballast water of ships that came from Europe to America before anyone knew really anything about invasive species and their effects on the environment. Passing around the shells of the Quagga mussels, the alums were asked if the Zebra mussels in Seneca Lake were good or bad for the water quality of the lake.
“If the Quagga mussels got rid of the Zebra mussels, it’d probably be a good thing,” said Kenneth Hansen ’61. Celebrating his 50th reunion, Hansen also remarked how much different the lake looked since he attended college. “The water is so clear and wonderful. When I was around, we didn’t have the boathouse and the lake was greener. Now it is pure blue and the students can use the floating dock to take advantage of the crystal waters. What an amazing thing!” he said. The clarity of the water though, Halfman later explained, is actually due to the presence of invasive species like the once dominant Zebra mussels and the now growing population of Quagga mussels.
This is because these types of mussels consume algae, a small plant life form that floats around in bodies of water. And, because algae are green, the absence of it creates water that is clear and very blue instead of murky and brown. In the past, the Zebra mussels, another invasive species, were the ones that overate and kept the waters of Seneca Lake clear. Now, the Quagga mussels have outcompeted their neighbors at the bottom of the lake and are filtering the water themselves.
Overall, the alums enjoyed the sunshine and the science lesson. Rebecca E. Anderson ’06, who partook in the education program while at HWS, commented on the importance of educating people about water quality and invasive species. “I am a high school teacher and I understand how critical it is to get the younger generations to understand the concept of invasive species and how bodies of water like Seneca Lake can change completely in a relatively short amount of time if a new species is carelessly dumped in the water. The William Scandling is a great tool for this type of education.”