No doubt an invasive mussel inspection station in Radium Hot Springs through the summer will result in some public complaints as drivers hauling recreational vessels get pulled aside to make sure they’re not unknowingly transporting the little hitchhikers into B.C. But disgruntled tourists are the least of our problems should zebra and quagga mussels make their way into our waters.
These little critters are native to Eastern Europe, and were first introduced to the Great Lakes region in the 1980s after ballast water was discharged from ships travelling from Europe. Since then, they’ve spread, causing widespread —and expensive — damage. From 2010 to 2015, the cost of managing invasive mussels in the Great Lakes region was $5 billion.
A study conducted for the Okanagan Basin Water Board in 2013 found the annual cost to that region could be at least $43 million in lost revenue plus added maintenance of aquatic infrastructure and irreparable ecological damage. Mussel-encrusted pipes, boats, docks, engines and more are just one aspect of the damage they cause. Their presence in an ecosystem can starve native species and render the water acidic as a result of the toxic byproducts they release. The toxic algae they promote can pollute drinking water.
These tiny threats put some of the Columbia Valley’s greatest natural treasures — Columbia Lake, Lake Windermere and the Columbia Wetlands — at risk. The Okanagan region has created an excellent website (www.dontmoveamussel.ca) with catchy slogans like “Don’t move a mussel” and “Spread the message: not the mussel” as part of its educational campaign.
While inspection stations are an imperative step, raising public awareness to the point where the hazards of quagga and zebra mussels are common knowledge is also key to keeping these mussels at bay, for once they get introduced, there is no getting them out.