The Dangers of Quagga and Zebra Mussels
What are Quagga and Zebra Mussels?
They are a freshwater bivalve mollusk with zebra like patterns on their shells. They are usually small in size, normally not growing more than an inch in size. The shells are soft and fragile, and when littered on a beach can be hurtful to step on barefooted. They are not native to North America, and are believed to have hitched a ride into the Great Lakes Region in ballast water tanks of commercial ships. They are native to Eurasia, believed to be from the Ukraine. The Quagga and Zebra mussels attach themselves to hard surfaces, such as boat hulls, water intake pipes or turtle shells. These creatures multiply rapidly and have an average life span of 3-5 years. A mature female is capable of producing up to one million eggs per year. Quagga mussels are considered to be edible for humans, though it is not recommended due to the accumulation of toxins, pollutants and harmful microorganisms within the mussel’s body.
Why are they so dangerous?
Quagga and Zebra mussels attach themselves to hard surfaces, such as your boat hull, making it easy to transfer them to waters they were not previously habituating. They are able to rapidly adapt to conditions, which accounts for the large colonization. They are able to attach to water intake pipes, causing less water to be transported and large maintenance bills to clear them out, increasing your bills. Decaying mussels create a very foul smell that clings to the air and water. They plug water circulation systems on watercraft, causing overheating and costly repair bills. By attaching to the hull of the boat, they can increase drag, affect steering and clog engines. From 1993-1999, these invasive mussels cost the United States power industry 3.1 Billion, with an additional impact on other businesses in excess of $5 Billion. They are harmful to aquatic ecosystems by endangering native mussels and organisms. By attaching themselves to the native mussel’s shells, they kill them. This invasive mussel increases the water transparency, which causes damage to aquatic plants and fish and an increase in algae growth. These mussels are filter feeders, removing vital phytoplankton from the waters, interrupting the natural food process for water creatures. They are associated with avian botulism outbreaks across different regions of the country, causing the death of tens of thousands of birds. Due to being a filter feeder, they can bio-accumulate as much as 300,000 times the organic pollutants when compared to the waters they are feeding in. These pollutants bio-magnify as they move up the food chain, such as when eaten by a fish or crayfish.
What is being done?
In 1994, biologist Anthony Ricciardi discovered that Yellow Perch had developed an appetite for Quagga mussels. This comes with some concern as to the introduction of contaminants to the food chain. Redear sunfish, a mollusk eating fish are also being used, but with the same concerns as with the Yellow Perch. Many states have instituted an inspection program for boaters to help prevent the spread of these invasive mussels. This is a vital step in stopping the spread of these invasive mussels. At water intake plants across the county, an aggressive plan of action is being taken to deal with the problem many are facing.
What can I do?
As a boater, be cooperative with the inspection process. If an inspector is not available, use the Clean, Drain and Dry process after leaving the water and before entering in another water location. Thoroughly wash the hull of the watercraft, using hot water from a high pressure hose when possible. Inspect all exposed surfaces-mussels will feel like sandpaper to the touch. Remove aquatic plants from all exposed surfaces and place in trash. Dispose of any unused or unwanted bait on the shore in the trash. Inspect, and then inspect again.
Here at Highland Marina, we have a Certified Inspector on site, saving you the hassle of going elsewhere for your inspection.