Views From The Cottage – By Melanie Martyn
Views from the Cottage by Melanie Martyn – ZEBRA ‘MUSSELS’ IN ON ORR LAKE
I was flipping through channels (by hand) in early 1971 on our portable TV, down in the basement rec room of our Rexdale home when a documentary caught my eye. As a teen, I was always curious about nature, so I paused long enough to learn the premise of this exposé. A biologist was providing a warning about the threat of potential ‘Zebra mussel’ infiltration into our eco systems. His concern was the larvae being carried down the St. Lawrence River by huge container ships with mollusk encrusted hulls, full of contaminated bilge water. He said within ten to fifteen years our Great Lakes would be infiltrated by invasive species such as the Zebra mussels. He said this would be a huge problem and once they settled in, there would be no way of getting them out. He was right. I remember thinking “what’s it to me?” and flipped the channel. Last Fall, this clip came right back to mind. I was sure I saw those critters at my shoreline. Just a few….
I remember swimming at our cottage on Lake Simcoe in the late ‘80s or maybe 1990, when I came out of the water bleeding with little cuts to my toes. Very strange I thought, but it was not until the next year that I could actually see all the rocks were covered in these small mollusks. At least the water was clear! Water shoes became the new fashion as you could not stand anywhere without sliding into these little switchblades. This was one of the main reasons I would go hunting for a new summer residence by early 1997.
Bass Lake had been my stomping grounds as a child and teen so it seemed this would be my first choice. I remember parking at the shoreline along 15th line just to walk the beach and soak in all the great memories. From the age of seven, I remember trekking from the 14th line (on the hottest days) to buy popsicles and ‘three for a penny’ black balls (mini jawbreakers) at the Bass Lake store (Bear’s) before taking a swim at that roadside beach to cool off before hiking back. A quick look into the clear shallow depths of the shoreline that day, made up my mind to look elsewhere. Nothing but zebra mussels met my gaze. Sad…very sad.
I had passed Orr Lake many times on my way to friends at Midland harbour, so it seemed natural to check it out. Yay, no zebra mussels here and with the help of a very talented local agent (Thank you P!), I found the perfect spot on this beautiful lake!
In the Spring of this year, after the last of the ice had melted, I noticed something very odd. There were so many empty, open clam shells in the chilly waters. Noticeable more because the sun was glinting off the opalescent inside shells. Quite beautiful, but alarming. It wasn’t more than a few weeks later I would see the cause. Zebra mussels are clinging to any solid surface, including our domestic clams and snuffing out their existence en masse. I have tried pulling these critters off with some success, but it appears hopeless. As I walk the shoreline and out into the deeper, sandy areas of the lake, I see all the clams are encrusted and will suffer the same fate as my early Spring discovery. One by one, I am still trying to save the few that I can!
A little info on the ‘enemy’:
The zebra mussel originated in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea area. It is thought to have been brought to this continent in the ballast of foreign freighters. (as the ‘70s feature said…down the St. Lawrence) Zebra mussels get their name from a striped pattern which is commonly seen on their shells, though not all shells bear this pattern. They are usually about the size of a fingernail but can grow to a maximum length of 2 inches (5.1 cm).
Like native mussels, they eat algae and nutrient rich bits of sediment. They have an exceptionally high filtering rate, making them very efficient at removing these important particles from the water. Zebra and quagga mussels (not sure we have that variety) can filter a volume equivalent to that of Lake Simcoe every five days! This eliminates murky conditions and now with the resulting extra sunlight and nutrient-rich substrate (Zebra mussel waste) available, there is increased aquatic plant growth.
They disrupt the ecosystems by monotypic colonization (last clam standing), and damage harbors and waterways, ships and boats, water-treatment and power plants. Water-treatment plants are most affected because the water intakes bring the microscopic, free-swimming larvae directly into the facilities. Zebra mussels also cling to pipes under the water and clog them so check your intake pipes!
What can we do to mitigate further transmission?
Clean boats, fishing gear, and waders with hot (at least 50 degrees Celsius) water when moving between lakes
- Drain bilges and live wells
- Dry boats and equipment (remember, zebra mussels can live for 10 days out of water!)
- Do not transport bait or water between lakes (common pathway for contamination`)
As I walk the shoreline and out into the deeper, sandy areas of the lake, I see all the clams are Zebra mussel-encrusted and will suffer the same fate as my early Spring discovery. One by one, I am still trying to save the few that I can. Now if we could all jump in and save a clam, wouldn’t that be awesome! Clam aboard!