WINNIPEG — They are tiny, invasive and can devastate ecosystems. The number of zebra mussels in Manitoba are multiplying at an astonishing rate, leaving many residents concerned about Lake Winnipeg’s future.
The freshwater mussels, which are not native to the province, have been spreading across Manitoba’s largest lake since 2013. They clog pipes at water treatment plants and can also increase algae blooms in lakes, which can kill fish and wildlife.
This year they they are finding their way into more parts of Lake Winnipeg. Within the past year alone, zebra mussels have spread so quickly, especially along the shorelines of Lake Winnipeg, many residents from Gimli, Man., are stunned.
“They are so tiny that they are just incredibly, incredibly sharp,” Gimli resident, Cheryl Bailey said.
“Our friend was actually picking pieces out of his foot with tweezers one night cause he was so cut up by it.”
Residents say they are frustrated and feel more needs to be done, including offering more boat washing stations.
“I haven’t seen a washing station this summer at all,” said Mark Dann, another Gimli resident. “Last year they had a lot of information. Wash stations and pamphlets and handing stuff out and this year I haven’t seen it.”
“They have a tremendous capacity for reproduction. All you need is one or two of them and in a short time they can multiple into millions,” said Eva Pip, from the biology department at the University of Winnipeg.
“We have let it deteriorate to the point where now its shameful, its something to embarrassed about,” Pip said.
“In a few years this is going to be a very extensive problem and people will be unable to avoid it.”
However, it can be slowed down if boaters follow the province’s watercraft decontamination laws.
The province currently has five decontamination units for zebra mussels, which can be found at high traffic boating locations that have been deemed high risk.
So far, the province has done 1,743 inspections and 153 watercrafts have been decontaminated.
READ MORE: Manitoba adopts new zebra mussel strategy
The government is reminding boaters to take precautions every time watercraft, trailers and water-based gear is moved between bodies of water. This includes:
- Cleaning and removing all plants, animals and mud.
- Draining all water from motors, live wells, bilge, ballast tanks and bait buckets.
- Drying all gear completely.
- Disposing of unwanted bait and worms in the trash.
About zebra mussels
Zebra mussels were first found in Manitoba in 2013. By the fall of 2015, boaters on Lake Winnipeg had found them clinging to their motors and hulls.
The species first arrived in Canada in 1986 and were found in a harbour in Lake Erie, most likely transported from Europe via transatlantic shipping, according to the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.
By 1991, zebra mussels began to spread to smaller inland lakes in Ontario and the eastern United States. They are currently found in more than 750 lakes in North America.
Click here to see a time lapse of the spread of zebra mussels across North America, including Lake Winnipeg.
WATCH: What zebra mussels have done to other lakes and the damage potential for Manitoba
On Wednesday Global News will dive into part two of our zebra mussel investigation, looking at what needs to be done to help protect our infrastructure.