May is Invasive Species Action Month in BC and it’s an important time to raise awareness of the impact invasive species can have.
What is an Invasive Species?
Invasive species are non-native plants or animals that have harmful impacts on the environment by altering an ecosystem’s food web. They outcompete native species for water, space and nutrients, resulting in the loss of biodiversity. The East Kootenay region already has 50 recorded invasive terrestrial plants but the community is working hard to prevent the introduction of aquatic zebra and quagga mussels. These mussels can attach to hard surfaces like boats, trailers and equipment, allowing them to be transferred between bodies of water. Outside of an aquatic environment, zebra and quagga mussels can survive for several weeks. Further increasing the risk of spread. These species originated in Europe and as of now are only found in Eastern and Central Canada as well as portions of the United States. It is vital that these mussels are contained in these areas to protect our waters from the mussel’s devastating presence.
What’s the Problem with Zebra and Quagga Mussels?
Zebra and quagga mussels pose the same threats as other invasive species by altering aquatic food webs. They live in massive colonies limiting the food available like plankton for native fish and organisms. This can result in the loss of native fish populations, deteriorate the lake and decrease water quality by promoting toxic algae. Beyond this though, they pose a threat to infrastructure as they clog pipes of water intake systems and impact municipal water supply distribution systems. It is estimated that if these mussels were to be introduced, they would have an economic impact of $43 million per year.
Fortunately, there have been no zebra or quagga mussel sightings reported in BC and we are working hard to keep it that way! If you’re in the Lake Windermere area you may notice strange looking things hanging off some public docks along the East side of the lake, these are substrate samplers. The purpose of these is to replicate a typical environment that zebra and quagga mussels would attach to. These are monitored monthly to see if anything has attached to the mesh surface. Previously, all we have found are small invertebrates but we continue to keep our eye out for zebra or quagga mussels. If you happen to notice these samplers, feel free to take a look but please don’t remove anything!
Identifying Zebra and Quagga Mussels
It’s important to recognize how to identify these mussels as we do have native ones in Lake Windermere. Zebra and quagga mussels range in size from about 1mm to 3cm, are brown or cream coloured and often form in clumps. This differs from native freshwater mussels that are typically larger than 3cm, oval-shaped and are buried in soft substrate or between cobbles.
Prevent the Spread
Once these species are introduced into water systems, they can’t be removed. This is why cleaning, draining and drying your boat followed by inspection before moving between lakes is extremely important to prevent the spread. This doesn’t just apply to your boat though, it’s also important to clean gear such as fishing equipment and clothing. Do your part to keep our waters healthy and occupied by native species!