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The effect millions of zebra mussels could have on Manitoba ecosystems, infrastructure

The effect millions of zebra mussels could have on Manitoba ecosystems, infrastructure

They are reproducing by the millions and have the potential to completely blanket lake bottoms, boats and pipes. Zebra mussels are becoming a growing concern in Manitoba and have already infested three bodies of water.

“I’ve been working on this for over 10 years and every time I see this it’s still astounding, it surprises me every time,” Scott Higgins, research scientist with International Institute for Sustainable Development said.

The lasting effect of zebra mussels on the health of Manitoba waterways is largely unknown. More research is needed to understand how susceptible Lake Winnipeg and its ecosystems are to damage from the invasive species.

But what is known is that investment is needed to protect current infrastructure.

“They have to look at their infrastructure now to prevent the stuff from colonizing those pipes and cause problems in the future,” Candace Parks, invasive species expert with Manitoba Conservation said.

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The invasive species can attach to the inside of pipes and eventually reduce water flow by more than 40 per cent.

In January, research scientists will begin to study the impact zebra mussels could have on Lake Winnipeg specifically.

Until that happens, Manitobans need to do their part, starting with their boats.

“As soon as the boats start coming out of the water again this year,” Higgins said. “I fully expect many of these boats will be completely, entirely covered with mussels growing on the bottom.”

Washing stations

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.

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.

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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.