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Friday, 19 August 2011 14:09

Boaters try to out mussel pests

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By Jamie Woodford
Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National Park officials are taking measures to ensure an invasive species doesn’t take over the area. No, it’s not aliens from outer space, but alien quagga mussels. These mussels reproduce at such a swift rate that they’re impossible to to eliminate.

A close relative of the Zebra mussel, the thumbnail-sized quaggas live in fresh water.

“When they find habitat they can occupy, they’re very prolific, so they can reproduce in huge numbers, and they cover the shore or hard surfaces in high densities,” said Dennis Madsen, manager of resource conservation.

When they invade, quagga mussels spread across shorelines, marina piers and boat hulls. They can also jam boat engines, block water intake pipes and consume food and oxygen needed by native animals.

On top of that, when the mussels overpopulate and die, they leave behind rotting, razor sharp, and super stinky shells on beaches.

“We’re trying to prevent them from getting here,” Madsen said. “If they do get here, it’ll be pretty much impossible to get rid of them.

Adult quagga mussels will latch on to immersed boats where it will formulate little fibres and grow into a shell. Quaggas can survive for many days if the boat is taken out of the water, and once the boat arrives at a new lake the mussel will open its shell and procreate in its new habitat as long as the temperature is right.

Madsen noted on especially hot days, where temperatures reach 30C or higher, quagga can survive up to five or six days out of water.

“In our normal temperatures, let’s say low 20s, if there’s a bit of precipitation or any kind of moisture in the air, they can live for 10 to 14 days (out of water.”

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. Near Las Vegas, Nevada is 180 km long, and full of quagga mussels.

“You can drive from Lake Mead to here (Waterton) in two days,” said Madsen.

Which is why park officials inspect every boat that comes through the gate.

“We’re asking anybody that comes to the park towing a power boat ... have they been boating in waters outside of B.C., Alberta or Montana  — which, as far as we know are free of quagga mussel — and if the answer is no, they’re issued a boating permit for free, and they can use the boat in the park,” Madsen said.

If boaters have been in waters outside those areas, park officials ask follow up questions to ensure they haven’t been in areas where quagga lurks.

“If we think they have been in lakes where quagga mussels are present, then we do a (free) boat inspection . . . and make sure that they’re free off any quagga mussels, then issued a boat permit and off they go,” said Madsen. 

If quagga mussels were to ever invade Waterton park, the resulting repercussions could be disastrous as Waterton Lake is the head waters of the Oldman Dam river system.

“Water flows downstream and the juvenile (quagga) are free swimming larvae so they would just barrel down the stream,” said Madsen.

In addition, quagga are filter feeders, which means they could take the base level of the local food chain out and collapse everything above it.

To help prevent quagga, or any type of invasive species from infiltrating a boat Madsen offers these tips: Inspect, drain and dry, he said.

Inspect your boat, trailer and other equipment. Clean off all the mud, plants and any animals, and rinse off bilges.

Drain everything out of the boat including the bilge and live wells.

Let it all dry, and you should be ready.

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