Community members roll up sleeves to fight zebra mussels at Lester Beach

For the last two weekends, neighbours have been meeting on the beach to clear away all the zebra mussel shells that collected on the sand during the previous week.

Fed up with the invasive species littering their beach, cottage-goers are cleaning up

Zebra mussel shells have become a problem on Lake Winnipeg beaches. (Submitted)

A group of cottage-goers near Lester Beach are taking the fight against zebra mussels into their own hands.

For the last two weekends, the neighbours have been meeting on the beach, about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, to clear away all the zebra mussel shells that collected on the sand during the previous week.

"We just decided that it needed to be done and instead of sitting around talking about how someone should rake up these mussels, we figured we would just go do it," said Nicole Lester, who has a family cottage near the beach and started the cleanup initiative.

"It's only a couple hours of work … and there's so many people who can benefit for at least a couple days from a cleaner space."

Nicole Lester, who has a family cottage near Lester Beach, and a group of neighbours have started cleaning zebra mussels off the beach every week. (Submitted by Nicole Lester)

The small, filter-feeding mussels, which reproduce aggressively, were first spotted in Lake Winnipeg in October 2013.

Despite efforts by the Manitoba government to control the problem, including dumping tonnes of liquid potash into the lake in 2014, the invasive species has started littering the beaches with its shells.

Lester said the problem has been getting progressively worse on Lester Beach for the last three years.

"We know that they're here to stay," she said.

The group has been meeting at 8 a.m. on Saturdays to get the beach cleaned up in time for beach-goers to enjoy the water during the day.

The effort started with just Lester, her husband and her father, but this weekend grew to a group of nine after Lester put up posters and neighbours who saw what they were up to joined in.

The photo on the left shows how many zebra mussels were on the beach when the cleanup started this Saturday. The photo on the right is of the beach after the cleanup. (Submitted by Nicole Lester)

The crew uses rakes to pick up the shells and then sifts the sand out with makeshift sifters.

The mussels are then moved using an old sled. This weekend, they picked up 15 sled loads worth of the invasive species, Lester said.

But what do you do with 15 sled loads of zebra mussel shells?

Lester reached out to provincial officials to find out but was a little disappointed to hear there isn't an official disposal plan yet.

For the time being, the shells are being piled in a corner of the beach that isn't used.

The cleanup group filled a sled with zebra mussels 15 times this Saturday. (Submitted by Nicole Lester)

"In my opinion, I think the province kind of dropped the ball on this," said Lester.

"They knew that Lake Winnipeg was going to be infested with these zebra mussels — people have been talking about this for years now — so they've had time to come up with a plan."

While Lester said some people have told her she's fighting a losing battle — new mussel shells return to litter the beach within a few days — the group will continue to meet every Saturday for the cleanup, she said.

It's been a great way to meet her neighbours, she said, and she hopes the idea spreads to other beaches in the province dealing with zebra mussels.

"We are very lucky. We have some of the most beautiful beaches, I think, in the world, right here in Manitoba," she said.

"I think it's worth it to keep them clean and do our part."