Summer student spreads message about threat from invasive species
When boaters or pedestrians passed by the Desert Sunrise Marina in Osoyoos on Sunday, summer student Savanna Maddock, who had a message for them about invasive aquatic species, pleasantly greeted them.
Maddock, from Summerland, is one of four summer students hired by the Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society (OASSIS) to spread the word throughout the valley about the harm that can be caused by invasive plants and animals.
Her visit was one of the events throughout the province to mark the third annual Invasive Species Week from June 9 to 15.
She had photos of such harmful aquatic species as zebra and quagga mussels, which haven’t yet reached the Okanagan, as well as a sample of Eurasian milfoil, which already chokes Osoyoos Lake.
She also had a bouquet of beautiful yellow irises that would look good in any floral arrangement. The trouble is, the yellow flag iris is an invasive plant that has taken root on the shores of Osoyoos Lake.
“We’d love to have people pay more attention to the yellow flag iris,” said Lisa Scott, OASISS co-ordinator and a biologist. “It’s definitely present on the lakeshore. It’s what you would refer to as an emergent plant, which means its roots need to be set in the water, but it grows where cattails and bulrushes grow, in wet areas.”
The plant, which grows in ditches and along the lakeshore, is actually escaped from the horticultural industry and is still sold in some places.
Floating on the water spreads its seeds and bits of root.
The problem with most invasive plants and animals is that they often overpower other species that are native to this area and there is nothing to keep their spread in check. They then transform the environment.
Invasive species can threaten the environment, economy and society, including human health, the Invasive Species Council of B.C. says in a news release.
The economic costs associated with invasive species in Canada are measured in the tens of billions of dollars and those costs are escalating, OASISS says.
“Protecting our region from the threat of invasive species is a top priority,” said Scott of OASISS. “The scope of our efforts is expanding every year to now include zebra and quagga mussels, European fire ants, American bullfrogs and eastern gray squirrels, just to name a few. We need the public’s engagement to address these biological invaders.”
There has been considerable attention to threats that aren’t yet here, zebra and quagga mussels, Scott said.
The problem is there has not been sufficient provincial funding or support to monitor various aquatic plants that are also a threat.
The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) estimates that an invasion by mussels would cost $43 million a year just to manage and would have a profound effect on tourism, water quality and submerged infrastructure such as water intakes, piers and boats.
Maddock said many of the people she talks to are receptive to the message. Some know little about the threat, but have seen billboards proclaiming, “Don’t move a mussel.”
Others have read articles about the problem in newspapers and many are well informed, she said.
“I have talked to people that lived in Ontario before and I find people from that region have a better understanding,” she added, noting that zebra mussels have invaded many lakes and rivers in Ontario and other parts of eastern North America.
It’s no coincidence that Maddock set up her booth at the marina and boat launch – invasive species such as mussels and careless or uninformed recreational boaters normally spread milfoil.
The message, said Scott, is that boaters should make sure their boats and all equipment is cleaned, drained and dried after removing it from water so that it doesn’t transport invasive species.
“It’s not just motorboats,” said Scott. “It can be your canoe, your kayak or your paddleboard. We want people to come out of the lake, inspect their boat and all their equipment and have it clean, drained and dry before moving on to the next spot.”