BEMIDJI -- Lake-loving volunteers are needed across the state of Minnesota on Saturday, Aug. 21, to participate in a search for starry stonewort, an aggressive aquatic invasive algae that spreads easily and grows into dense mats at and below a lake’s surface.

Starry Trek is an annual event where members of the public first gather at training sites to learn how to identify starry stonewort and other aquatic invasive species. The newly trained citizen-scientists then branch out to local water accesses to search for signs of the invasive species.

In 2020, 212 volunteers scoured 292 public water accesses on 238 waterbodies across the state, finding one new infestation of starry stonewort, a release said.

Starry stonewort was first found in Minnesota at Lake Koronis in 2015 and has since spread to 16 Minnesota lakes. Early detection of this species is critical for control. Starry Trek volunteers have found starry stonewort in four lakes – Grand Lake in Stearns County, Wolf Lake at the Hubbard/Beltrami County border, Lake Beltrami in Beltrami County, and Carnelian Lake in Stearns County – as well as other aquatic invasive species like Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels during this event.

The 2017 discovery of starry stonewort in Grand Lake led to the lake association and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources rapidly mobilizing to hand-pull the infestation. This early intervention has widely been considered a success, with starry stonewort continuing to be limited to the small area near the public access where it was initially discovered.

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“This event is a terrific way for people to get outdoors, get educated about aquatic invasive species, and help protect their area lakes,” said Megan Weber, extension educator with the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. “The information we gain at this event helps researchers and managers understand its current distribution and potentially take action if new infestations are found.”

No experience or equipment is necessary to participate in Starry Trek. Expert training on monitoring protocols and starry stonewort identification will be provided on-site. This event is free, but registration is required. Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center for this event,” said Bruce Anspach, Beltrami County Environmental Services aquatic invasive species lake technician. “Protecting our lakes for multiple future generations is really important to us all, and we want to make sure we’re doing the best we can to prevent the introduction and spread of AIS.”

There are currently 28 local training sites committed around the state, including one at the Big Turtle Lake Boat Launch. Volunteers will meet at their local site for training, then will be sent to nearby public water accesses to check for starry stonewort. At the end of the day, they’ll return to the local training site to report their findings. For a full list of the sites and other FAQs, please visit www.StarryTrek.org.