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Testing in Osoyoos Lake confirms invasive mussels have not arrived here
The good news is invasive mussels have not been detected in any lake in British Columbia. The bad news is it’s going to take a gigantic effort by government, boat owners and citizens at large to keep these destructive species from invading and destroying B.C. lakes.
That is the message being reinforced by the Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society (OASSIS), which recently initiated its Don’t Move a Mussel awareness campaign across the province.
“Invasive mussels aren’t here yet and we don’t want them,” said Lisa Scott, the co-ordinator for OASSIS.
Testing of several lakes in the South Okanagan – including Osoyoos Lake – took place this summer as summer students were hired to conduct numerous tests designed to detect where zebra and quagga mussels might be hiding.
None were found and OASSIS has a mandate to try and educate and inform members of the public so they hopefully never come this way, said Scott.
OASSIS was formed back in 1996 to monitor and control invasive plant species across the province.
Their mandate was expanded last year after invasive mussels were discovered attached to a boat in Shuswap Lake.
Fortunately, all of those mussels were dead and no harm was caused, said Scott.
Because there hasn’t been a single confirmation of invasive mussels in any lake in this province, the only way they can be brought here is from other jurisdictions in Canada or the United States, she said.
“These mussels are very tiny and hard to detect,” she said. “That makes it difficult to find them … they are smaller than a grain of sand … that’s why we need assistance from boat owners and the public to take precautions to clean their boats completely if they’re coming from another province or buying boats from locations where these mussels might exist.”
In Osoyoos, a summer student hired by OASSIS contacted the Osoyoos Lake Water Quality Society, who agreed to be a project partner, said Scott.
“We only started testing in August … but we didn’t find any, which is very good news,” she said.
A length of rope approximately eight metres in length was dropped into the lake with specialized PVC piping and meshing attached.
“The rope, piping and mesh are all areas proven through testing to be attractive to these invasive mussels,” said Scott.
OASSIS is hoping to secure funding to continue testing lakes in the South Okanagan starting next May through October, she said.
Other lakes tested this past summer include Skaha Lake, Okanagan Lake and Kalamalka Lake in Vernon.
If invasive mussels ever make their way to the South Okanagan, the results would be disastrous, she said.
“All four of these lakes have ideal conditions for these mussels to grow and expand rapidly,” she said. “They have the right water chemistry and temperature for these things to expand rapidly and cause some very serious damage.”
The Okanagan Basin Water Board provided $30,000 in funding to run the program this past summer and this organization remains committed to doing everything it can to keep invasive mussels out of provincial lakes, rivers and streams, said Scott.
The economic impact of invasive mussels would be devastating to the tourism industry in this part of the province, she said.
“It would have huge environmental and economic impact … we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars,” she said.
Currently, there are no mandatory checkpoint stations in B.C. to check boats to ensure they are free of invasive mussels, unlike western American states such as Idaho where you cannot launch a boat unless you have been inspected, she said.
“It would only take one boat infested with mussels to enter a lake in B.C. and there would be no turning back. We are trying to encourage everyone to take responsibility to help prevent invasive mussels from entering our waters,” said Scott.
Zebra and Quagga Mussels can rapidly colonize hard surfaces and can clog water-intake structures, impact recreation and devastate local fisheries.
In the Okanagan-Similkameen, the effects of their invasion would be felt at the commercial activity level, throughout the tourism sector and at the ecological level. Direct costs and lost revenues are estimated to be in excess of $45 million per year if mussels were to invade Okanagan Lake.
OASSIS has partnered with local yacht clubs, marinas and other organizations to set up monitoring stations near boat launches in Osoyoos, Skaha, Okanagan and Kalamalka Lakes.
“We are highly optimistic that we won’t find anything, however it’s important we monitor to be sure the mussels have not arrived,” said Scott.
For more information on European mussels and other invasive species, go to www.oasiss.ca.