Invasive species threat the focus of Calgary summit

The inaugural Alberta Aquatic Invasive Species Summit in Calgary earlier this month provided an insight

Invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels remain a threat to water bodies across the province.

The inaugural Alberta Aquatic Invasive Species Summit in Calgary earlier this month provided an insight into the seriousness of the invasive species threat to Alberta water bodies.

Graeme Strathdee, president of the Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society, was one of several Sylvan Lake stakeholders those who travelled to the two-day conference Jan. 14 and 15. It turned out, he said, to be “quite an important event.”

“The threat from invasive species is growing, and it’s certainly not under control,” he said. “The key part from an Alberta perspective is that there’s a big effort being mobilized to prevent contamination− especially contaminated boats and power boats− from being launched in Alberta water bodies.”

Boats carrying non-native species such as zebra and quagga mussels are a major threat to Alberta waters. Plants such as Eurasian water-milfoil could also prove harmful if introduced locally.

High-risk mussel species haven’t yet been detected in Alberta’s waters, although two contaminated boats destined for Alberta lakes were intercepted at inspection sites last summer.

“We’re just one boat launch away from contaminating the lake,” said Strathdee. “That for Sylvan Lake is a huge problem because of the uncontrolled boat launches− certainly on the grid roads. Until there’s some containment or even quarantining of incoming boats, that threat is always going to be there.”

Attendees of the summit in Calgary learned that some beaches in eastern North America have first aid stations set up to treat cuts and other injuries the result of walking along zebra mussel-infested shorelines.

And the implications of contamination could stretch much further, according to Strathdee.

“Even the real estate industry knows that property values would probably be trimmed by at least 10 per cent if the lake became contaminated by mussels or by plants,” he said. “It’s a big deal. This is not like a minor contamination; it’s super serious.”

To mitigate the risk, boaters are reminded of the clean, drain, dry mantra, which encourages a thorough process of ensuring boats remain free of contamination. Highway inspections may also soon become mandatory.

Representatives from the Town of Sylvan Lake, the Sylvan Lake Management Committee and the Summer Villages of Sylvan Lake also attended the Calgary summit.