In March, our province unveiled the latest steps in their strategy to prevent invasive zebra mussels from entering our province and becoming established in our waterways. Part of the strategy included mandatory boat inspections, and this summer, Alberta Environment and Parks opened 13 stations across our province. Inspection stations are aided by three permanent mussel-sniffing dogs.
Why are they so bad?
Zebra mussels have detrimental effects on biodiversity, agriculture, industry, water, and tourism, among others. The mussels colonize both hard and soft surfaces, including docks and boats, and can clog intake structures in power stations and water treatment plants. If they were to become established in our province, zebra mussels could damage 1100 km of canals and pipelines that transport water to Albertans. Economically, the cost of a zebra mussel invasion in Alberta is estimated at $75 million annually.
Zebra mussels are filter feeders, meaning they remove good nutrients from the water, leaving little food for native species. This rapidly decreases biodiversity in our waterways. It also increases sunlight availability in our watersheds, increasing the growth of aquatic vegetation as well as light available for toxic algae blooms. By colonizing surfaces, they cover important spawning grounds, and can impact the survival of fish eggs3.
Are they in Alberta?
So far, zebra mussels have not been identified in Alberta waterways – but that doesn’t mean we’re safe; several infested boats have been intercepted entering the province in the last few years, many of which are coming from areas with known zebra mussel infestations in the U.S. and parts of Eastern Canada.
How do they get here?
Zebra Mussels attach themselves to boats and other recreational equipment. They are found in many parts of North America, including the Colorado River system in the U.S., a popular destination for Alberta snowbirds1. When boats aren’t carefully cleaned, drained, and dried, the zebra mussels can be transported back to Alberta waterways without boat owners knowing.
What is the province doing?
Along with mandatory boat inspections, Alberta has recently enacted changes to legislation that makes boat and watercraft inspections mandatory on major highways coming into the province2.
This is accompanied by Alberta Environment and Parks “Clean, Drain, Dry” Education campaign, and a 24-hour invasive species hotline.
What can I do to help?
If you own a boat, especially if you are transporting it across borders, make sure you clean and inspect your watercraft, trailer and gear. Make sure to drain all water from bait buckets, ballasts, bilges, coolers, internal compartments, or any other area that water might be stored. Lastly, dry your watercraft and gear between trips. Read more here.
If you think you’ve spotted a zebra mussel, call Alberta’s invasive species hotline at 1.855.336.BOAT (2628).
- Aquatic Invasive Species. Alberta Environment and Parks. (June 25, 2015). Retrieved from http://esrd.alberta.ca/recreation-public-use/invasive-species/aquatic-invasive-species/default.aspx
- Watercraft Inspections. Alberta Environment and Parks. (June 23, 2015). Retrieved from: http://esrd.alberta.ca/recreation-public-use/invasive-species/aquatic-invasive-species/watercraft-inspections.aspx
- Zebra and Quagga Mussels. Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program. (2012). Retrieved from: http://www.invadingspecies.com/invaders/invertebrates/zebra-and-quagga-mussels/.