As an invasive species of mussels begins to appear in Quebec’s Lac Memphramagog, local officials are trying to figure out just how big the infestation is.
“It’s a big concern,” said Josiane K. Pouliot of Magog, Que.’s Environment Division.
Zebra mussels can wreak havoc on ecosystems. Anthony Ricciardi, an invasive species biologist at McGill University, said they came over from Europe on shipping boats and are already present in the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, and Lake Champlain.
“Zebra mussels are an almost perfect invader,” said Ricciardi.
Last year, a diver found one in Lac Memphramagog. Now, divers have found hundreds. On Friday morning, a team from Memphramagog Conservation pulled up dozens near a small island on the lake in less than half an hour.
“Here, it’s just an infestation,” said Memphramagog Conservation’s Anthony Galvin. The conservation workers are trying to diagnose just how serious the problem is.
According to Ricciardi, the mussels take nutrients out of the water.
“One effect is to cause part of the food chain to go hungry,” he explained.
The zebra mussels also eat poisonous particles, and if another animal then eats the mussel, it could be killed.
“Tens of thousands of water fowl have died every year in the Great Lakes since 1999,” said Ricciardi.
Not only the wildlife are in danger, but zebra mussels can cause harm to humans as well.
“I’m very concerned, too, because this is our drinking water and all the pipes and drinking water are installed in the lake,” said Pouliot.
Lac Memphramagog supplies drinking water to 200,000 people in the area, and the mussels can stick to any hard surface, including water pipes.
“They can impede water flow and cause permanent costs to control them,” said Ricciardi. The scientist fears the mussels may spread to other lakes in the region, including Lake Massawippi.
“The way in which the mussels will be moved around will probably be through recreational boating,” he said.
Local officials in Magog ask everyone to clean their boats off at cleaning stations before and after they go in the water.
Ricciardi said that the measure can delay infestation and slow the spread of the invasive species.