Protecting against invasive species is of utmost importance in the North Okanagan-Shuswap.
May is Invasive Species Action Month, when a focus is put on protecting bodies of water against the introduction of invasive species. Two species of great concern to the Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC) and organizations across the province are zebra and quagga mussels. These freshwater mussels come from Europe and have already been introduced in the Great Lakes, in Lake Winnipeg and in American watersheds as far west as California, reads an SWC media release.
The mussels have not made their way into B.C. or Alberta lakes as of yet, but the increased traffic of boats and watercraft in and around provincial bodies of water in the summer tourist season creates an increased risk of the aquatic organisms invading further waters.
The SWC is always working to protect North Okanagan Shuswap waterways from invasive species, and this month the organization has teamed up with the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society (CSISS) to better educate the public about the risk and what they can do to prevent invasion.
“The problem with zebra and quagga mussels is that they grow and attach to anything below the water’s surface, like boat hulls, dock pilings, inside pipes and hydro-electric facilities, and even inside engine compartments,” says Erin Vieira, program manager for the Shuswap Watershed Council. “The mussels form in colonies and removing them would be an ongoing maintenance effort which has been conservatively estimated to cost B.C. property owners and taxpayers $43 million per year.”
Invasive mussels can also impact water quality and their filter-feeding methods can disrupt aquatic food webs. Zebra and quagga mussels can out-compete native species for food, putting entire ecosystems at risk. Drinking water supplies can also be affected, said the SWC. When the mussels die, small sharp pieces of their shells can wash up on shorelines, disrupting recreational water-based activities and limiting the enjoyment and safety of beaches, reads the release.
There are no effective ways of eliminating the mussels once they establish themselves in a body of water. Their reproduction cycle is fast and leads to extensive infestations, said the SWC.
Since the mussels can cling to boats, watercraft, trailers and any surface that enters the water, attaching directly to the item or collecting in compartments of water inside cavities, cleaning, draining, and drying any and all watercraft before moving it to another body of water is essential.
Just one infested watercraft could start a whole new population of invasive mussels in a new lake, reads the SWC release.
The Clean, Drain and Dry initiative involves three steps:
- Removing the watercraft from the water and cleaning it to remove all mud, plants, aquatic life and debris
- Draining all compartments of water onto dry land
- Ensuring the watercraft is completely dry before relaunching
Zebra and quagga mussels only grow to about one centimeter in diameter and can be hard to spot in inner compartments in engines or other openings. Young mussels are microscopic and free-swimming, which means they don’t attach to surfaces and can’t be seen, so pools of water must be emptied and dried entirely to get rid of them, says the SWC.
It’s also important that travellers with watercraft stop at inspection stations along highways with entry points to the province, added Jess Booth, Outreach Coordinator for CSISS. Failing to stop for an inspection is met with a heavy fine.
Conservation officers staff the mandatory checkpoints and will inspect and decontaminate watercraft if need be, for free.
Clean, Drain, Dry practices apply to sport boats, fishing boats, kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, personal watercraft and more. Other invasive species like Eurasian water milfoil and invasive freshwater clams can also be prevented from spreading using these measures.
The SWC and CSISS also note aquariums often contain species that are not native to B.C. and contents of aquariums should never be dumped in drains, flushed down toilets or released into bodies of water.
Any suspected transport, possession or sightings of zebra or quagga mussels should be reported to the provincial RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277.