Zebra mussels: scarier than Jurassic Park.

The Don't Move a Mussel muscle shirts have been a big hit.

“They’ll clump on rock, they’ll clump in pipe, and they’ll clump mussel-next-to-mussel-atop-mussel in astonishing congregations of as many as 70,000 individuals a square foot” – Sue McGrath

It’s hard to get people excited about invisible threats that haven’t arrived yet, but sometimes that’s what you have to do.

Let’s make a list of undesirable things: salmon extinctions, toxic algae blooms, beach closures, clogged water intakes and storm drains, botulism toxin… The unpleasantries associated with the small but numerous zebra and quagga mussels are many and varied. Continue reading

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A Parable of Weeds: change, adaptation and leadership

For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy

It’s startling (and creepy) to swim into a milfoil bed – an unexpected brush against your side, a light tug at your ankles …Yikes! Is that a fish?... Some people won’t swim in the lake; and American newspapers even publish stories about “milfoil-related” panics and fatalities.  We don’t want lakes to be like swimming pools, but it’s disconcerting to know that this invasive plant is here to stay, and we have to learn to live with it.

Cleaning the beaches, circa 1974

This post is about living with change – changing landscapes, changing water supplies, changing culture and population. We have to be ready and able to change too. What can we save? Where should we throw the greatest effort? Who will lead?

The globalization of weeds (and weedy animals) seems unstoppable, coming wave after wave.  As a student, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility and occasional despair. I imagine it’s the same for students of glaciology – watching the melt. Invasive species are a lot like climate change. Continue reading

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Good mussels, bad mussels, and environmental triage

In conclusion…there is a high risk of [zebra mussels] not only surviving in some parts of Okanagan Lake, but a high potential for massive infestations.”Gerald L. Mackie, 2010

Sometimes we need to do environmental triage – focusing on what’s most important, and what approaches are likely to succeed.

When water conditions are right, zebra mussels reproduce rapidly and can completely cover the shells of native mussels.

Lately I’ve been trying to get a better understanding of the situation with mussels in the lakes. There are two of immediate concern – a species native to the Okanagan, the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel, on the verge of local extinction, and an invasive – the zebra mussel, which is spreading rapidly across North America and heading this way.

These species are an example of how we grapple with management approaches and trade-offs, and the best course for protecting biodiversity for the whole ecosystem. Continue reading

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