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Aquatic Life and Habitats are at Risk due to Aquatic Invasive Species

Combatting the zebra mussel invasion with rigorous monitoring and preventive measures.

Aquatic Life and Habitats are at Risk due to Aquatic Invasive SpeciesÂ

Commonly referred to as AIS, Aquatic Invasive Species can cause damage to habitats and upset the balance for aquatic life to thrive. AIS includes a variety of animals, plants, and invertebrates that live in the water. They do more than just harm the habitat though, they also harm irrigation systems and the entire infrastructure for municipal water use.Â

This is why it is essential to properly monitor for AIS and be proactive to prevent such problems from developing in the first place. A close watch on the various bodies of water around Saskatchewan reduces the risk that aquatic invasive species can create. The ripple effect is hard to recover from, so the sooner a potential risk is identified and resolved the better the outcome.

Zebra Mussels

One of the dangerous AIS entities are zebra mussels. They can be a serious problem for the water flow, including lakes, throughout the western part of Canada. The zebra mussels are small but they can do quite a bit of damage in a small window of time if given the opportunity. They have been identified in 34 states of the US and in 3 main areas of Canada. This includes Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

AIMM

One of the ways Saskatchewan fights against zebra mussels is AIMM (Adult Invasive Mussel Monitoring). This is a partnership with various organizations that aren’t part of the Canadian government. This program involves installing samplers around various bodies of water to check for both quagga mussels and zebra mussels. These bodies of water include:

  • Blackstrap Lake
  • Brightwater Reservoir
  • Lake DiefenbakerÂ
  • Pike LakeÂ

Each sampler is checked monthly by employees and the information collected is uploaded into an app called Survey 123. This type of monitoring is a great resource to prevent AIS like zebra mussels from causing damage. If any signs are identified that there is a risk, immediate action can be taken to isolate the problem and resolve it. This early intervention saves the habitat and the aquatic life that rely on it for their survival.

Sampler TrainingÂ

The sampler training program started in June of 2019. This was hosted by the Government of Saskatchewan’s Fish, Wildlife, and Land Branch. Collectively, 120 bodies of water were sampled, located within the major watersheds this province offers. The reports show there was no presence of zebra mussels during the summer of 2019 or 2020.Â

The eDNA (environmental DNA) analysis was introduced in 2021 at a few of the lakes in the area. This process involves pumping water from the lake through a mesh filter and then the sample is sent to the lab to check for the DNA of these invasive mussel species. Living and dead organisms in the water shed genetic material. The results from eDNA can be from:

  • Feces
  • Hair
  • Mucous
  • Reproductive cells
  • Skin

This high-tech tool changed how aquatic invasive species were identified, and how quickly they could be detected in bodies of water. Such testing can confirm the presence of even a small number of zebra mussels. This early warning gives experts time to act before the aquatic habitat can be destroyed by their presence.Â

Other Testing Methods

In 2020, COVID-19 prevented community events, including the sampling process to occur. Instead, a plankton tow method was used. This involves a mesh net pulled through the water. As it moves, microscopic organisms are collected. The pH level and turbidity of the water is tested.Â

An AIS prevention program established by the Ministry of Environment has been implemented in Saskatchewan to increase public awareness about the risk of AIS and the prevention of them in the water.Â

Facts about Zebra Mussels

  • Both quagga and zebra mussels are very hard to remove from a body of water.
  • Females can produce up to 1 million eggs annually.
  • Such an invasion of these mussels can interrupt the food chain and create toxic algae. They can cause recreational areas to be limited or shut down to the public. Property values along the waterfront can be reduced.
  • It can cost millions of dollars to repair or replace the water supply system due to zebra mussels. When they clot the supply of water, it reduces the amount of power generated by the water. It can prevent homes and cottages in this region to not receive ample water supplies.
  • Any discovery of zebra mussels should be reported immediately.
  • Keep your boat and other water equipment clean to reduce the risk of diseases being spread by AIS.
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