Invasive Marine Species Threaten Our Aquatic Ecosystems

When we think of the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes, we often picture serene landscapes teeming with diverse aquatic life. Unfortunately, these fragile ecosystems are under siege from invasive marine species. These unwelcome intruders can have devastating consequences on the environment, native species, and even our own well-being.

Invasive marine species pose a significant threat to aquatic ecosystems.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / GerardM, License: CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED
Invasive marine species pose a significant threat to aquatic ecosystems.

Zebra Mussels Invade North Carolina

North Carolina, known for its picturesque landscapes, is facing an alarming invasion by zebra mussels. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) recently confirmed the presence of these harmful invasive species in an Iredell County quarry. What makes this discovery particularly concerning is that it marks the first time zebra mussels have been identified in the wild in North Carolina.

These tiny but prolific mussels were confirmed by scuba divers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the NCWRC. Zebra mussels have an uncanny ability to hitch rides on boats, dock lifts, and other water-related equipment. They can also travel as larvae through diving equipment, bait buckets, boat bilges, and other gear.

The consequences of their establishment are dire. As Great Lakes Now reports, Zebra mussels can quickly overtake an environment, disrupting food chains and altering water chemistry. They even pose a threat to public drinking and wastewater systems.

Zebra mussels are one notorious example, invading North Carolina waterways.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, License: Public Domain
Zebra mussels are one notorious example, invading North Carolina waterways.

South Dakota’s Battle Against Zebra Mussels

The invasive marine species crisis isn’t confined to North Carolina alone. In South Dakota, zebra mussels have made their presence felt in Roy Lake. A property owner’s discovery while removing their dock led to the confirmation of these aquatic invasive species (AIS) by S.D. Game, Fish, and Parks (SDGFP) officials.

The SD GFP has since sprung into action with its Zebra Mussel Rapid Response Team, comprising dedicated employees. Their mission: to respond effectively to zebra mussel incidents and keep a close eye on lake situations.

“Boaters and anglers in this area can expect to see additional reminders to ‘clean, drain, dry’ on physical signs, in their email inboxes, and on social media,” said GFP Communications Manager, Nick Harrington. “We are in the peak of the summer boating season, and everyone needs to be doing their part to slow the spread of invasive species.”

What makes zebra mussels a formidable foe is their rapid spread and ability to clog water intakes, costing power plants millions to remove them. They can attach themselves to virtually anything, from native mussels to boat engines, blocking cooling systems and causing damage.

New Zealand mudsnails have recently emerged as invasive species in Lake Tahoe.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Ziggurat, License: Public Domain
New Zealand mudsnails have recently emerged as invasive species in Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe’s Unwelcome Guest: New Zealand Mudsnails

In the iconic Lake Tahoe, a new invasive species has recently emerged, and its name is New Zealand mudsnails (NZMS). According to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, these small but potentially devastating invaders were discovered in the weeds along Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. The finding has prompted an immediate response, including the implementation of a “rapid response protocol” to assess the extent of the infestation and create a comprehensive plan for managing their spread.

NZMS pose a significant threat to Lake Tahoe’s delicate ecology.

“NZMS can outcompete native invertebrates for space and food, which can decrease native invertebrates — a prime food source for fish,” Dennis Zabaglo, aquatic invasive species program manager at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency told SFGATE.

The introduction of NZMS to Lake Tahoe is particularly unsettling because it’s an uncommon occurrence. In fact, no new invasive species had been detected in the lake for at least 15 years, indicating potential vulnerabilities in the current boat inspection program.

Eradicating invasive species is exceptionally challenging once they infiltrate.

Photo: Pexels
Eradicating invasive species is exceptionally challenging once they infiltrate.

The Ongoing Battle Against Invasive Species

The stories from North Carolina, South Dakota, and Lake Tahoe underscore the growing threat of invasive marine species. These invaders not only disrupt ecosystems but also have wide-ranging impacts on economies and recreational activities. Whether it’s zebra mussels in North Carolina, the rapid response team in South Dakota, or NZMS in Lake Tahoe, the battle against invasive species requires vigilance, cooperation, and swift action.

Prevention remains the best defense. Agencies like the NCWRC, SD GFP, and environmental organizations in Lake Tahoe are taking steps to educate the public about the importance of cleaning, draining, and drying equipment to prevent the spread of invasive species. However, it’s a collective effort that requires every individual who enjoys our lakes, rivers, and oceans to take personal responsibility.

Once an invasive species infiltrates a waterbody, it can be exceptionally challenging to eradicate, reports Sailors for the Sea. Therefore, protecting our aquatic ecosystems begins with proactive measures. Together, we can safeguard these invaluable natural treasures for future generations.

Invasive marine species may be small, but their impact can be enormous. Let’s ensure our waters remain pristine and teeming with native biodiversity, free from the clutches of these aquatic intruders. Click below to make a difference!

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.
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