Last year, environmental DNA was detected in Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba. This year, it’s live zebra mussels.
Dameon Wall, the park’s external relations manager, said the discovery was made this month at Boat Cove, despite the implementation of boating protocols on the lake over the summer that prohibited boaters from take their boats to other bodies of water and required them to pa*s inspections and obtain markers to use Clear Lake.
“There are a lot of sad people here today, both at Parks Canada and around us,” Wall said. “I can confirm that more than one zebra mussel was removed from the lake. But if you were to show up here today in Clear Lake and Wasagaming, you wouldn’t see them absorbed in things like you see elsewhere.
Concerned and frustrated by the news, Scott Higgins, a research scientist at IISD’s Experimental Lakes Area, applauded the navigation rules but said he suspected they came a little too late.
“I think it’s a wake-up call,” he said. “I think we all knew there was a very high risk of zebra mussels escaping from Lake Winnipeg and the Red River into other jurisdictions, and that has now happened.
In Manitoba, zebra mussels were first discovered in Lake Winnipeg 10 years ago. From there, they spread west to Lake Manitoba and north to the Nelson River, clogging infrastructure and starving native species.
Now that they are at Clear Lake, there is concern about the lakes inside and outside Riding Mountain Park.
“To our knowledge, Clear Lake is now the westernmost lake in Canada to be invaded by zebra mussels, and we don’t want them to spread westward,” Higgins said, adding that it is even more important now that Parks Canada continues its efforts. strict navigation protocols to contain the spread.
He said bodies of water rich in calcium make it more difficult for mussels to grow. “However, Clear Lake has calcium levels that are within the optimal range for zebra mussels, so that is definitely concerning.” On the other hand, however, unlike Lake Winnipeg, Clear Lake has very low nutrient concentrations and low amounts of algae. Algae is the food of zebra mussels.
Given the limited habitat, Higgins said he’s not sure how big the populations will become and only time will tell. “I think it’s a good time to reevaluate the strategy.”
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Despite his concerns, Wall said next steps won’t be decided until governments, Indigenous leaders and scientists are consulted.
“It is up to all of us to do our best to minimize the spread,” he said.
Although uncertain about what next year’s boating season will look like, Wall said, “we’re looking forward to a season where visitors return.” It might look a little different, but we haven’t made those decisions yet.
PKBNEWS contacted the province to ask about its preventative measures and response to invasive species. The request for an interview was declined.
Moving forward, Higgins said education and awareness will be paramount, along with more watercraft cleaning and inspection stations.
— with files from Rosanna Hempel of Global
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