Three binational Great Lakes coalitions announced their endorsement of the Invasive Mussel Collaborative as the “go-to forum” on developing solutions to the problems caused by invasive mussels in the Great Lakes. The three organizations are the Great Lakes Commission, International Joint Commission, and Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
Erika Jensen is the aquatic invasive species program manager for the Great Lakes Commission. She says the GLC provides coordination and backbone support for the collaborative.
“We help coordinate and bring the agencies together, and provide staff support to the group,” she says. It’s not just the three binational groups that support and partner with the Invasive Mussel Collaborative, she says, but “federal, state, and provincial agencies from the U.S. and Canada, as well as tribal organizations, private industry, non-government groups, and academic groups, all working together to identify priorities and needs related to control of invasive and zebra quagga mussels.”
“Zebra and quagga mussels have been around the Great Lakes for a very long time. They have created many problems in the region, and it’s a complex problem to solve," Jensen said. "In order to develop feasible solutions to this problem, the three commissions as well as all the agencies and other groups involved in the collaborative really need to work together and leverage all of our collective expertise and resources to help solve this problem.”
Zebra and quagga mussels pose a threat to the Great Lakes in a number of ways. They grow in very large and dense colonies, and clog up drains and pipes easily, which puts a strain on infrastructure and municipal functions.
They have also changed the fabric of the ecosystem in the Great Lakes. Zebra and quagga mussels filter particles and phytoplankton out of the water to feed, therefore increasing water clarity. This takes valuable food sources away from native organisms and upends native food chains, and allows sunlight to penetrate deeper into the water, therefore allowing benthic algaes to clog beaches. Harmful algae blooms can also proliferate when invasive mussels selectively avoid them. Zebra mussels can even attach themselves to native species of mussels and smother them.
Jensen says the Invasive Mussel Collaboration has been working since its inception to find effective solutions to the problem of invasive mussels. Some of the possibilities for control include testing a new molluscicide, Jensen says.
“One [solution] the collaborative is looking at right now is called Zequanox. It’s a species-specific molluscicide, so it targets specifically zebra and quagga mussels," she said. "We’re looking at testing it in a project in Lake Michigan later this summer.”
Jensen says it’s been tested in other areas in the Great Lakes region. “The state of Michigan did a feasibility test of the Zequanox product in Lake Erie a couple years ago.”
According to Jensen, there’s also research looking into genetic modification as a form of invasive mussel control, as well as physical solutions like simple tarps being placed at the bottom of lakes. But since zebra and quagga mussels have changed the ecosystem of the Great Lakes so much, it’s hard to predict what would happen if they were to be removed entirely. Would the ecosystem fully recover and native species flourish once again? Jensen says that’s one of the main questions the Invasive Mussel Collaborative is attempting to answer.
“If we treat a small area where zebra and quagga mussels have infested, if we successfully kill or remove the mussels, then how does that local surrounding aquatic community respond? And what comes back, what benefits can we see from doing that.”