Area boaters and swimmers have been dealing with zebra mussels and their spread for the past 25 years, more or less.
The U.S. Geological Survey has a useful information page on those invasive mussels, including maps of their known distribution to date for zebra and quagga types. Researching this post I learned that zebra mussels are native to the Black, Caspian and Azov Seas. Here’s the USGS summary of the creature’s spread:
By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, zebra mussels had spread to most all major drainages of Europe because of widespread construction of canal systems. They first appeared in Great Britain in 1824 where they are now well established. Since then, zebra mussels have expanded their range into Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Italy, and the rest of western Europe. Zebra mussels were first discovered in North America in 1988 in the Great Lakes. The first account of an established population came from Canadian waters of Lake St. Clair, a water body connecting Lake Huron and Lake Erie. By 1990, zebra mussels had been found in all the Great Lakes. The following year, zebra mussels escaped the Great Lakes basin and found their way into the Illinois and Hudson rivers. The Illinois River was the key to their introduction into the Mississippi River drainage which covers over 1.2 million square miles. By 1992, the following rivers had established populations of zebra mussels: Arkansas, Cumberland, Hudson, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee. By 1994, the following states had reported records of zebra mussels within their borders or in water bodies adjacent to their borders:Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (Benson 2012). More recently, Connecticut has been added to the list of states where zebra mussels have been found.
It reads like like some inexorable march, doesn’t it? Daunting enough to think shoot, that’s that – they are here to stay. Well, maybe, maybe not. Reporting for the New York Times on Feb 24th, Robert H. Boyle details a promising development:
Now the mussels may have met their match: Daniel P. Molloy, an emeritus biologist at the New York State Museum in Albany and a self-described “Bronx boy who became fascinated by things living in water.”
Inspired by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in high school, Dr. Molloy, now 66, has long been a pioneer in the development of environmentally safe control agents to replace broad-spectrum chemical pesticides.
Leading a team at the museum’s Cambridge Field Research Laboratory in upstate New York, he discovered a bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens strain CL145A, that kills the mussels but appears to have little or no effect on other organisms.
The article says New York State has licensed a California-based company, Marrone Bio Innovations to produce a commercial product “Zequanox” with impressive test results thus far. (According to the manufacturer, Zequanox has been approved in California for control of zebra and quagga mussels in pipe systems since November of last year.)
As recounted in the same Times article, Molloy has an inspiring life story. Earlier in his career he was part of an international effort that established the potential of Bacillus thuringienis israelensis, or Bti, as an environmentally benign way to control for black fly larvae.
It may be wishful thinking to expect a magic wand that produces exactly the results wanted – with no down-side or unintended side effects. But this is an interesting development, with appealing results to date.
I’m just coming to the topic as a lay person who cites articles of interest. Undoubtedly many In Box readers have first-hand experience with invasive mussels and some also have expertise on the subject of wildlife management, control efforts, etc. I’m interested in hearing more thoughts on this issue.