Manitoba

Gross, sharp, environmentally invasive: Zebra mussels blanket Beaconia Beach

An invasive species expert is calling on all Manitobans to help fight zebra mussels after what she called "the motherlode" of mussels washed up on a Lake Winnipeg beach.

'Massive piles' wash up on shore of beach in south basin of Lake Winnipeg

Candace Parks found a blanket of zebra mussels on Beaconia Beach this week. (Twitter)

An invasive species expert is calling on all Manitobans to help fight zebra mussels after what she called "the motherlode" of mussels washed up on a Lake Winnipeg beach.

Candace Parks was at Beaconia Beach on the south basin of Lake Winnipeg when she spotted "massive piles" of the tiny, sharp mussels spread across the sand and into the wetland behind the beach.

She's an aquatic invasive species specialist for the Province of Manitoba so she's seen her fair share of zebra mussels, but Parks said she'd never seen anything like that in the province.

"It shouldn't be surprising, I guess. We are under invasion in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg," she said. "But I was stunned and still shocked."

Zebra mussels are an invasive species not native to Manitoba, but they're present in droves in Lake Winnipeg, brought in by boaters moving their vessels between bodies of water.

They're often found encrusted along the hulls of boats or submerged surfaces, and can be hidden among rocks under the water.

They're also sharp. Parks said reports have come in of people and dogs cutting their feet and even needing stitches from stepping on the tiny shells.

Parks said the "blanketing effect" she saw at Beaconia isn't appearing at nearby beaches, including Grand and Patricia.

Beaconia is likely being hit harder because of dominant wind patterns in Manitoba, which come in from the northwest and push the mussels towards the southeastern beach, she said.

"What I saw in Beaconia Beach is not what we're also seeing on other beaches," she said.

Clean, Drain, Dry

Parks said all Manitobans should take a "personal responsibility" to stop the mussels from spreading to other water bodies.

She recommended a series of three steps every time you move a watercraft from one body of water to another: clean, drain and dry.

Boaters should remove any adult zebra mussels from their vessels, she said. Some are extremely small, so Parks recommended running a hand along the hull of the boat. If you feel a gritty, sandpaper-like texture, you've got mussels.

Water can also carry microscopic, baby mussels, which are free-floating and can't be seen by the human eye. Parks said boaters should drain all water from their boat including from water buckets and livewells.

Finally, dry: allow all watercraft to dry before going back in the water.

"We can still enjoy Lake Winnipeg. We can still go swimming, fishing, boating. But now the new reality is zebra mussels are here to stay," Parks said. "Let's not move them to other water bodies."

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