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Prevention is key to protecting upper Highland Lakes from invasive mussels

FROM STAFF REPORTS

zebra mussels next to a ruler

Zebra mussels are small – only centimeters in size when fully grown – but it’s their sheer number that make them so destructive. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials are reminding boaters to clean, drain, and dry their watercraft to help prevent the spread of this invasive species. Lakes Travis and Austin are considered ‘infested’ as officials have confirmed established and reproducing populations of zebra mussels in both bodies of water. Photo courtesy of TPWD

MARBLE FALLS — With boating season getting underway, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials are reminding people to take steps to curb the spread of invasive species such zebra mussels.

“There are 14 lakes in Texas with an established, reproducing population of zebra mussels and five were zebra mussels have been detected repeatedly,” said Monica McGarrity, TPWD Aquatic Invasive Species team lead. “Boaters can help keep that number from growing by taking a few minutes to properly clean, drain, and dry everything that touches the water before they leave. Taking just a few minutes for these simple steps can make a huge difference in our efforts to protect and preserve Texas lakes for future generations.”

In Central Texas, officials have listed lakes Travis and Austin as “infested.” This means those lakes have an established, reproducing population of zebra mussels.

TPWD and Lower Colorado River Authority officials confirmed the small, but damaging, organism had landed in Lake Travis in June 2017. Later that summer officials detected zebra mussels in Lake Austin, which sits downstream from Lake Travis. In February of this year, officials deemed Lake Austin as “infested” with zebra mussels.

While Lake Marble Falls, Lake LBJ, Inks Lake and Lake Buchanan sit upstream of the two infested lakes, officials are concerned that if boaters and lake enthusiasts don’t take the necessary precautions, the invasive species would work its way to the upper Highland Lakes. People can transport zebra mussels from one body of water to another when the invasive species — in both adult form or larvae — hitches a ride on boats.

The larvae and adult zebra mussels can survive for several days in or on boats. With lakes Travis’ and Austin’s proximity to the upper Highland Lakes, boaters often travel between the various lakes, towing their craft from one to the other.

Without properly “cleaning, draining, and drying” boats, watercraft and anything that’s come in contact with the water, it’s possible to transfer zebra mussels to uninfected lakes. TPWD officials said boaters “should make sure that everything they use is well drained and dried out for at least a week before visiting another water body. If it can’t be dried completely, wash it with hot, soapy water to reduce the risk of moving zebra mussels.”

Boaters also need to drain all water from their boats and onboard areas – including bait buckets – before leaving or approaching a body of fresh water.

Though an adult zebra mussel only reaches a maximum size of several centimeters, it’s the sheer volume of this Eurasian native that concerns biologist and water managers. Zebra mussel colonies can include thousands, even millions, of the creatures. They can cause major issues for underwater infrastructure such as water intake pipes and even clog up boat motors. They can also take over a shoreline making it difficult for people to use the infected area.

Once in a lake, zebra mussels are hard to control. It’s best to try and prevent infestation by cleaning, draining, and drying boats and watercraft. Go to tpwd.texas.gov and texasinvasives.org for more information.

editor@thepicayune.com

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