Search is on for alien mussels in Okanagan waters
Boaters will be the target of a new program this year to try and prevent invasion of two alien mussel species into B.C. waters, the quagga and zebra mussel.
Adele Brick is a student in the Water Engineering Technology program at Okanagan College and she will be travelling around the valley this summer to help educate people about these prolific, toxic invasive species.
“One female quagga or zebra mussel can produce a million young up to four times a year,” explained Brick.
Zebra mussels will attach themselves to anything aquatic, including the props of boats, water pipes, storm sewers, wharves and boats.
Although the adult mussel is only about the size of your thumbnail, the young are microscopic and free swimming, so they can attach themselves to anything in the water and you wouldn’t even notice them at first, she explains.
However, in no time, they can get into water intakes, clog up pumps or boat motors and cause devastating damage.
“Some cities have to spend millions of dollars cleaning up as a result of these infestations,” Brick said.
So far, they haven’t been detected this far west, but from Ontario east, waters are infested with them, so the likelihood of them being brought here in a visitor’s boat is of grave concern, she said.
Washington State is also free of them so far, but they have been detected in boats entering that state, bound for B.C., noted Brick.
“We don’t want them here,” she said emphatically.
Her work helping to educate people about the mussels and other invasive aquatic species is part of an Okanagan Basin Water Board contract with the South Okanagan-Similkameen Invasive Plant Society, with financial assistance from the Canada Summer Jobs program.
She will work throughout the valley this summer encouraging boaters to clean, drain and dry their boats and equipment before entering another lake, she said.
These invasive mussels can live for up to a month in a very small amount of water, so it’s really important that all the little crevices, wells or bilges in boats are cleaned thoroughly each time the equipment is used.
Native mussels in this region do not attach themselves to anything, so you can be confident if a mussel is attached to a hard surface that it’s not a native mussel, she said.
As well as the economic and environmental damage they do, these invasive mussels expel a substance that can cause toxic blue green algae blooms in lakes, and they can foul beaches by infesting them, creating sharp surfaces which will cut the feet, then the smell of decaying flesh.
Either drain every part of your boat for at least five days in the sun, or pressure wash it in hot water.
Brick will be taking her message to farmers’ markets, boat shows, boat launches and other public places where she will also be handing out floating key chain reminders, and carabiners with tags describing a number of aquatic invasive species of concern.
In order to try and prevent these species from getting a toehold here, everyone has to work together to keep their boats clean and free of them; and to prevent transporting them from one body of water to another.
For more information, or to report any sightings of these alien species of mussel, contact the society at: sosips.ca or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org