Ottawa

Zebra mussels found in West Quebec lake

The inadvertent spread of zebra mussels, an invasive species known for upsetting the ecological balance of waterways, is a growing menace in the Outaouis, say biologists.

Boaters urged to clean vessels to prevent spread in waterways

Invasive mollusks have arrived in West Quebec lake 2:01

The inadvertent spread of zebra mussels, an invasive species known for upsetting the ecological balance of waterways, is a growing menace in the Outaouais, say biologists.

Jean-Philippe Harnois, who works with Quebec's watershed management agency Agence Bassin Versant des 7, said the infestation of hundreds of the thumbnail-sized mollusks risks contaminating a growing number of lakes and rivers in West Quebec.

"It's very sad," he said, perched in his canoe and pointing out a cluster of the organisms clinging to a buoy line in Lac de la Carriere.

The lake, next to the Casino du Lac Lemay, is the first in West Quebec where zebra mussels have been found.

Harnois is concerned with how the invaders are being transported: by clinging to hard surfaces such as boats, and hitching rides to previously unaffected bodies of water. Even though the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers are natural barriers to the spread of the invaders, boats appear to be carrying the disruptive species elsewhere.

Boaters urged to wash vessels

Harnois fears the zebra mussels will consume organisms such as plankton, robbing native fish of food and possibly resulting in the starvation of the lake's aquatic life. The problem could transform the lake's biodiversity, resulting in the disappearance of some fish.

With zebra mussels able to lay around 30,000 to 40,000 eggs a year, Harnois warned that more lakes in the Outaouais are under threat unless people work to prevent the spread.

The best that can be done for now, he said, is to stem the problem by urging boaters and anglers to regularly wash their boats after travelling between lakes and rivers.

"We can slow it down. That's the thing we're working for," Harnois said.

"The public have to join us to help preserve the water quality of the lakes of the region here in Quebec, and the Ottawa region in Ontario too."

This 2007 file photo shows a cluster of zebra mussels. The invasive species are threatening to transform the biodiversity of the lakes in the Outaouais, with their spread often attributed to boats carrying clusters from area to area. (John L. Russell/Associated Press)

With files from Giacomo Panico