Protecting Alberta’s Lakes Against Aquatic Invasive Species

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High schools and lakes have at least one thing in common: sometimes the presence of a newcomer can cause quite a stir. For Alberta’s lakes, those newcomers are known as “aquatic invasive species” – plants and animals not originally from Alberta being brought from other jurisdictions into our waterways. An infamous example of an aquatic invasive species in Alberta is the zebra mussel.

Zebra mussels originated in the Black Sea and get their name from the striped pattern. Zebra mussels reproduce at an incredible rate – an adult female zebra mussel can produce 30,000 to 40,000 eggs in each reproductive cycle, and over 1 million each year. Invasive species such as the zebra mussel threaten native plants and animals, the ecological health of infested waters, and can cause millions of dollars in damage to recreational, agricultural or commercial activities.

As the arm’s length agency responsible for monitoring Alberta’s lakes, the water monitoring staff spend a lot of time out on our lakes. Their work includes long term lake monitoring, Central Alberta lakes, Southern lakes and reservoirs, and certain lakes in the Peace Region. These are sampled for routine chemical, biological and physical parameters, as well as monitoring for aquatic invasive species, which currently is Dreissinid mussel plankton hauls and substrates for newly settled mussels. Currently, there have been no hits on any of our lakes.

Like doctors washing hands between each patient, it is standard operating procedure to decontaminate each boat before it enters a new lake. This helps prevent the spread of any potential “nasties,” such as the zebra mussel, from lake to lake. So, when two boats coming to Alberta from Ontario were stopped in Vermillion, the water monitoring staff had the special training and equipment to lend a helping hand.

Decontaminating boats involves using a special pressure washer that heats water up to 140 degrees Celsius. Technicians must take apart the boat, scrap off any mussels stowing away, and then wash out all the nooks and crannies with piping hot water. This process can take two or three hours and up to seven hours on a large-sized boat.AcquaticInvasiveSpecies_2015-06-20_boat2

Zebra mussels are not a big problem in Alberta… yet. Prevention is essential in order to keep it that way. Watercraft inspections have been made mandatory and we all must work together to make sure our lakes remain happy and healthy. For more information on aquatic invasive species and what you can do to help, visit Alberta Parks.