Several months ago, I went out to our Gondola Adventures™, Inc. location on Lake Las Vegas, in Henderson, Nevada. It’s about 15 miles off the Las Vegas strip and a few miles upstream from Lake Mead. I enjoyed no shortage of heat and had no problems getting paint to dry in little time. The only hassles were the second-degree burns experienced when touching any metal surface that was in direct view of the sun – and then there’s that whole “heat exhaustion” thing – gotta watch out for that.
the end of my week in Nevada, I hooked my truck up to one of our
gondolas, recently trailered, and made my way across the desert towards
home in Newport Beach. The date was July 4th, and my wife and I were
looking forward to arriving home in time to see some fireworks. It’s not
unusual to move boats around between our three locations (the third
being Irving, Texas). The gondola at the center of our story is the
Isabella Celeste (named for our second daughter), a 25 foot-long,
US-built replica. This gondola had operated in all three locations by
the time I started across the desert with her. All went well from the
driving and trailering perspective; I’ve dragged boats across that
stretch of road a dozen times or more, and many of them much bigger than
this one. The story got interesting when we pulled into the
Agricultural Inspection Station in Yermo, California. Usually they wave
you through with an “I hate this job, it’s so unnecessary” kind of look.
Not today. Today they were quite interested in my little black boat and
had all kinds of questions about her. At first I thought it was the
typical curiosity I encounter whenever I’m operating or trailering a
gondola, but then their questions zeroed-in on where the boat had been.
Which waterways? Which marinas? What are all those little tan specks on
the side of the hull? This was all quite unexpected. The folks there
were all nice and understanding, knowing full well that most boaters in
the US are not aware that we have some “new species” in our midst. I was
surprised to learn about both Zebra and Quagga Muscle infestations
taking place in US waterways. They were quick to assure me that there
would be no fines or charges but I would need to repaint my boat
(something I’d planned to do anyway) and I would receive a “free
powerwash” (whether I liked it or not) compliments of the US Department
office there, I was given instructions on who to contact after the
repainting was complete, as an inspection of the hull would be required
before I’d be allowed to launch the gondola. My experience at the Yermo
inspection station made me realize two things: first, that the folks
there have an mportant job to do, and while I may have complained about
having to slow down from time to time, their presence there is vital.
While in the station, I witnessed dozens of truckers being questioned
about what they were hauling, where they’d come from, where they were
going. They were vigilant. The second thing I realized is that all boat
owners, including us gondoliers, need to be informed so that we don’t
contribute to the problem.
for a brief history lesson: if you’re like I was back in July, you’ve
heard little or nothing about these shellfish, known as “invasive
species” by the authorities. It all started in the 1800’s when these
freshwater mussels were inadvertently imported from rivers and lakes in
Russia and the Ukraine, to other parts of Europe. They didn’t pose as
much of a threat to society until we started using things like “intake
pipes” for cooling systems on ships and shore. The little
plankton-feeding bivalves are fast reproducers and can clog a system in a
appearance of Zebra Mussels was in 1988 in the Great Lakes; Quaggas
followed in ’89. The most commonly held belief is that they were sucked
into ballast tanks of cargo ships in places like the Caspian and Black
Sea; ships which crossed the Atlantic and made their way into the Great
Lakes chain before purging their ballast tanks to accommodate the
changing balance of the vessel due to cargo loading and unloading. Once
these little striped mussels (often as small as a fingernail but
sometimes as big as two inches in length) were in our waters, they
thrived with few natural enemies to control their numbers.
don’t just clog systems however, they are filter feeders that live on
plankton (the base of most marine food chains). By reproducing quickly,
these mussels not only crowd out other species, they starve them by
taking the lion’s share of the food. They do such an effective job of
filter feeding that they leave the water cleaner than it was. Arguments
abound on both sides as to whether these aggressive filter-feeders are
beneficial or detrimental to our American aquatic ecosystems. They are
becoming famous for cleaning up the water because they remove pollution
along with everything else they take in. Their filter feeding prowess is
so effective that Chicago residents have been known to compare some
shallow water areas of Lake Michigan to those of the Caribbean. Areas
which were dark and where one could not see the bottom are now
depth-discernable due to the remarkable clarity of the water. This water
clarity has allowed bottom-feeding fish to thrive, and the new mussels
have been credited with increasing Lake Erie’s Small Mouth Bass
effects are easy to find. As mentioned earlier, Zebra and Quagga Mussels
crowd out, and in many cases irradicate, other competing species, often
attaching themselves directly to the shells of other mussels in the
process. They can cover anchors, pier pilings, the undersides of boats
and float-docks, and are even capable of covering the entire floor, or
“substrate”, of a waterway. There are many shellfish with sharp edges
out there, but the dorsal edge of the Zebra can slice as deep as an inch
into human flesh. The razor sharp edges have been known to cut hands
and feet of swimmers and waders who often don’t initially realize
they’ve been cut. And then there’s the problem of clogging intake pipes.
This becomes a giant-sized problem when it happens at a power plant
which relies on water to cool its systems.
“invasive species” situation is nothing new; many continents have
experienced much more extreme invasions throughout history.
deliberate release of European Rabbits in Australia had a devastating
effect on the continent. It started with 24 rabbits in 1859, and ten
years later the population was so strong that an annual count of two
million hunted or trapped made no impact on the strength of the species.
Plague situations, literally millions of people throughout the world
died due to illnesses spread in part by rats that travelled on ships to
many parts of Europe and Asia.
North America: European Honeybees were introduced to the American
colonies in the 1600’s, making no apparent negative impact. In the
1970’s however, Africanized Honeybees were one of the most worried about
species of the decade.
the Asian Tiger Mosquito, to Fire Ants, to the recently infamous Snake
Head fish, we’ve seen our share of introduced species. Mention the West
Nile Virus anywhere in America and you’re likely to get people’s
introduced species have been viewed as bad. The House Sparrow, Rock
Pigeon and Wild Boar have become so commonplace in North America that
most folks probably don’t even know they aren’t indigenous.
Some obvious questions about Zebra and Quagga Mussels arise:
Where can they survive? These two bivalve species are freshwater only.
If they are attached to your boat and you park it in salt water, they
will die. The only reason they were able to make it across the Atlantic
is that they made the trip in sealed ballast tanks. They seem to be
capable of living and multiplying in several climates. They have been
discovered as far north as Sweden and all the way to the equator.
Are they in my waterway? If your waterway is fresh water, quite
possibly. They don’t need to travel in ballast tanks or attached to the
bottom of your boat. A rubber boot or bait bucket with a few inches of
water can be sufficient to transport them.
How can they be eliminated/irradicated? Some aggressive chemical
programs have worked in isolated bodies of water but there are obvious
negative effects on other organisms in the water. Some applications of
electrical or sonic fields have yielded some results but the “cure”
hasn’t really been found yet. The biggest struggle right now is simply
to prevent the spread of Zebras and Quaggas.
How can I help prevent the spread of these mussels? The biggest problem
area is transporting boats between fresh water locations. If you are
doing so, make sure your boat is clean, not only under the water but
alongside the hull too. Watch for standing water in the boat, on the
deck, and even on your trailer. These shellfish can be tiny at first so
if you see something but think it’s too small – think again. Most of
all, report anything you see that could relate to the problem.
back in Yermo, after having been stopped, questioned, educated, and
after having my gondola washed by a kerosene-heated power washer that
was about the size of a compact car, I was finally dismissed…with
instructions, of course. It turns out that we now have Zebra and Quagga
Mussels in almost every major river in North America, all the Great
Lakes, and in January of this year they were discovered in Lake Mojave,
Lake Havasu, and Lake Mead.
No wonder they stopped me in Yermo.
verdict isn’t in yet as to whether these “invasive species” are a
blessing or a curse. One thing is certain: once they take hold of an
area, things are not the same again.
Here are a few interesting links:
http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/atlas/glat-ch4.html scroll down to “exotic species” for a great shot of a shopping cart covered with Zebra Mussels.
http://cars.er.usgs.gov/Nonindigenous_Species/Zebra_mussel_FAQs/Dreissena_FAQs/dreissena_faqs.html great photo of Zebra and Quagga side by side, as well as more information on both species.
http://www.lakepowell.org/qmfacts.pdf A Lake Powell Quagga Mussel alert.
“spread the message, not the mussels”