What Okanagan Boaters Need To Know About Invasive Mussels Pt.1

Zebra and Quagga mussels are microscopic at birth and the size of your thumbnail at maturity. Despite their small size they will have a huge negative impact if they are introduced into our lakes and rivers.

What would happen?

Unprotected docks, breakwalls, boat bottoms and engines would be rapidly colonized. Boat engines would overheat due to colonies of mussels clogging cooling water intakes. Major, ongoing efforts would be required to scrape mussels off boat hulls.

Walking barefoot along Okanagan beaches could become a thing of the past. The sharpe-edged shells of dead mussels wash ashore, creating a cutting hazard for unprotected feet. Since mussels accumulate on the submerged portion of any substrate, ladders, docks and rafts are also a risk.

As significant filter feeders, invasive mussels may increase human and wildlife exposure to pollutants. Research indicates that mussels can accumulate pollutants within their tissues to levels more than 300,000 times greater than concentrations in the environment. These contaminants can be passed up the food chain so that any fish or waterfowl consuming the mussels will also accumulate pollutants. Likewise, human consumption of these same fish and waterfowl could result in further risk of exposure.

These are just some of the reasons why a great effort is being made to keep these mussels out of British Columbia.

History tells us that these aquatic organisms can reproduce, colonize new water bodies and spread across the continent at a rapid pace. It’s believed that zebra and quagga mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes in the late 1980’s when European ships released ballast water containing the species. The mussels were then discovered attached to the underwater surfaces of rocks and piers and other structures. During the next three decades, they steadily moved into Quebec, many U.S. states and now Manitoba, infesting close to 700 North American lakes.

We all need to take responsibility to protect the Okanagan from the impacts of zebra and quagga mussels. Remember, “Don’t Move a Mussel” and “Clean-Drain-Dry” boats and other equipment before moving between lakes and rivers. Taking these steps can prevent the spread of invasive mussels and halt the spread of other invasive animals and plants.

At this time there are no known methods for eliminating invasive mussels without severely damaging the water body in which they’ve been found. It’s essential to have the public’s help to prevent their spread. Report mussel-contaminated boats or equipment to the BC Conservation Officer Service’s “Report All Poachers and Polluters” (RAPP) Hotline 1-877-952-7277 (toll-free). For more information on invasive mussels, the risks to the Okanagan and Prevention tips, visit

Article Contributed by

Lisa Scott

Invasive Species Society

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