Protection of other lakes key as zebra mussels clog Lake Winnipeg: province

Freshwater experts are calling for vigilance after clumps of zebra mussels washed up on the shores of Lake Winnipeg this spring.

'It's time for Manitobans to roll up their sleeves,' says government invasive species expert

Zebra mussels are staying for good at Grand Beach but the province believes there's still time to save the more than 100,000 other lakes in Manitoba. (Teresa Newton/Instagram)

Freshwater experts are calling for vigilance after clumps of zebra mussels washed up on the shores of Lake Winnipeg this spring.

The invasive species from Europe was first identified in the large body of water in 2013.

Over the past four seasons, scientists have watched the small freshwater mussel proliferate in the lake.

This May, beachgoers at Grand Beach spotted clumps of the mussels washing up on the shoreline.

"This is now the new reality for Lake Winnipeg and for Grand Beach," said Candace Parks, aquatic invasive species specialist for Manitoba Sustainable Development. 

"The lake is being invaded."

Alexis Kanu, executive director for the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, says beachgoers may need to adapt to the presence of zebra mussels and wear water shoes to the beach in the future. (Don Marce / CBC)

In years past, Manitoba experimented with dumping potash in Gimli Harbour where the mussels have become encrusted on fishing boats and docks, but those efforts have been abandoned, a spokesperson for the department said.

The zebra mussels are here to stay.

While thousands have already been spotted on the shores and on boats, there are likely millions more unseen, growing on debris or rocks underwater.

A single female zebra mussels can produced up to a million spawn in one season, said Parks.

It's time governments and private citizens adapt to the new normal.

'It's not time to give up'

Zebra mussels are infamous for their hard, sharp shells and their ability to clog infrastructure like water intake pipes and various components of hydro facilities. 

Even fire hydrants can be affected by the invasive species in some areas, said Parks.

Despite those concerns, Alexis Kanu, executive director for the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, remains hopeful about the future of Lake Winnipeg.

In other Canadian lakes where zebra mussels have been around for much longer periods such as in the Great Lakes, the invasive species hasn't put a stop to swimming or fishing.

"What I don't want is for us to to give up on this lake," said Kanu.

'The lake is being invaded.' Zebra mussels wash up on the shores of Lake Winnipeg

5 years ago
Duration 0:43
Freshwater experts are calling for vigilance after clumps of zebra mussels washed up on the shores of Lake Winnipeg this spring.

Swimmers may need to start wearing water shoes to protect their feet while the province may need to change the way it maintains the beach, she said.

From an environmental standpoint, Each lake reacts differently to the presence of zebra mussels, she said, so it's difficult to predict how they may alter the ecosystem.

Lake Winnipeg, for example, may start to appear slightly clearer in the coming years as the zebra mussels filter out algae. 

Unfortunately, they do not eat toxic blue-green algae which can form giant blooms in the summer.

"We'll be monitoring the lake and certainly scientists are studying the lake to determine how it will change," said Kanu.

"The zebra mussels are in Lake Winnipeg and they're there for good."

Clean, drain, dry and dispose

She, like Parks, is calling on Manitobans to try to prevent zebra mussels from spreading further in the province. Currently they have invaded the Red River, Lake Winnipeg and Cedar Lake by Grand Rapids.

"It's time for Manitobans to roll up their sleeves and take the steps they need to take to make sure they're not spreading [the mussels]," Parks said. "It's not time to give up."

There are more than 100,000 bodies of water in the province. 

Parks wants boaters and other watercraft users to be vigilant when it comes to preventing the spread of zebra mussels.

"The steps are clean, drain, dry and dispose," she said.

When a boater removes their craft out of the water, it's important to walk around it, remove any plants or debris attached and drain all the water from the hull.

If anyone finds zebra mussels in a body of water other than the Red River, Cedar Lake or Lake Winnipeg, she wants people to report it.

"Early detection is actually paramount when it comes to finding zebra mussels," Parks said.

with files from Radio Noon and Camille Gris Roy


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