Thanks to the sharp eye and fast action of a local fisherman, Texas Parks and Wildlife’s aquatic invasive species crews say they will be able to get an early jump start in stamping out a giant salvinia infestation recently discovered at Lake Nacogdoches in East Texas.
The discovery was made on Jan. 30 by bass angler, Tommy Hamilton. Hamilton said he was fishing in the Yellow Bank Creek arm of the 2,200-acre lake, when he noticed a small plant floating on the surface. He said the plant looked familiar, but out of place.
“It was about 15-20 feet from my boat,” Hamilton said. “At first I thought, no way, but once I picked it up, I knew what it was. I’ve seen a bunch of it on Lake Naconiche and the Angelina River, so I know what it looks like.”
Hamilton placed a sample of the plant in a water bottle.
Photos were subsequently sent to TPWD fisheries biologist Todd Driscoll and John Findeisen, TPWD invasive species biologist. Both scientists confirmed the plant as giant salvinia, an aquatic fern that has been found in a number of lakes across East Texas over the last 20 years.
Giant salvinia was first discovered on Toledo Bend in 1998 and has since spread throughout East Texas. In addition to current infestations at Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, Caddo Lake and Lake Naconiche, TPWD says the invasive plant has been newly introduced or reintroduced at five East Texas lakes since last fall. Among them are Lake Murvaul, Lake Palestine, Martin Creek, Lake Fork and, most recently, Lake Nacogdoches.
Driscoll said this marks the first time the plant has been found at Lake Nacogdoches. He and other TPWD staff surveyed the Yellow Bank Creek arm of the lake less than 24 hours after confirming the discovery from the photo. He said they used dip nets to recover enough floating plants to fill several five-gallon buckets.
“There are still some plants lodged in the torpedo grass along the north bank that we just couldn’t get to,” Driscoll said. “Our spray crews will be going back with the air boat to spray that shoreline. Hopefully, getting the heads-up so early from that fisherman will allow us to get it under control. It could have gotten out of hand with a good growing season.”
Judging from the number of plants discovered, the biologist said he believes it was introduced to the lake sometime in mid to late summer, more than likely from a boat trailer that was backed into the lake with live plants clinging to the bunks. He said there is a private boat ramp in Yellow Bank Creek, but fresh tire tracks off the north bank of the cove indicate that boats have been launching from the shoreline.
For those who may not be familiar with giant salvinia, it is an alien weed with a dark history of gobbling up freshwater lakes and turning them into aquatic deserts. Once established, it can spread at a rate so fast, it can double in coverage area in a week or less.
Left unchecked, giant salvinia can devastate a watery ecosystem by forming a surface canopy so dense that sunlight cannot penetrate it. The lack of sunlight sparks a chain reaction of negatives, which can eventually turn a fertile body of water into a sterile one.