Norfolk Biodiversity

Have we got the “mussel” to resist invasion?

Beware the Quagga Mussel has arrived on our shores!  On 1st of October 2014, Dr David Aldridge of Cambridge University was alerted by a startling presence in a local river.

Quagga Mussels were identified in the Wraysbury River in Surrey.

And it won’t be long before it spreads, as a fully mature female can produce up to 1 million eggs per year!

So it’s fair to say, Quagga Mussels are looking to make their home here in the UK.

"Quagga mussels collected from the Wraysbury River, London" Credited to David Albridge of Cambridge University

“Quagga mussels collected from the Wraysbury River, London” Credited to David Aldridge of Cambridge University

So what do we need to know about our new “guests”?  

Simply put, Quagga Mussels are bad news.

They upset local ecosystems through filtering, allowing weeds to grow. They sit on top of native freshwater mussels, ultimately smothering and killing them.

One of the biggest issues with Quagga Mussels though is the baggage – they foster the invasion of other species, such as the killer shrimp.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is no effective measure to eradicate Quagga Mussels once they are established, which is looking strikingly similar to that of the Zebra mussel, already situated in the UK and Wales.

Are we at risk? Well, their sharp shells can cause an injury or two. But it’s not just our feet to look out for; they form thick encrustations on man-made structures and vehicles making them less efficient. Pipes can begin to clog up, leading to damaged water treatment plants and irrigation mechanisms.

Sarah Chare of the Environmental Agency acknowledges the costs of the Quagga Mussel on our shores:

“Invasive species – such as the quagga mussel – cost the UK economy in excess of £1.8 billion every year.”

So, where did they come from?

Quagga Mussels originate in the Ponto-Caspian region of Eastern Europe. The Ponto – Caspian region quite literally is a sea of invasive species, with a further 22 species posing risks to the UK.

Of the 23, the Quagga Mussel is one of the worst.

The last 30 years has seen an increase in the spread of Quagga Mussels. The first instance of Quagga Mussels on the move came in April 2005, found for the first time in Western Europe in the Netherlands.

They have even reached as far as the reservoirs of Southern California on the West of the USA.

So, if steps aren’t taken, Norfolk could be welcoming them in the not too distant future!

"Ponto-Caspian Region" Credited to Google Maps

“Ponto-Caspian Region” Credited to Google Maps

So how do they do it? 

Quagga Mussels spread via larvae drifting downstream for 3 to 4 weeks, crossing great distances.

Worryingly, we are our worst enemy as people are the largest cause of most introductions. Adult Quagga Mussels attach themselves to boats or other man-made mechanics allowing them to move over land and sea, far too quickly.

Dr David Aldridge, Cambridge University warns of the dangers of the “least wanted” species to hit the UK,

“The impact from the Quagga mussel is really serious, it’s the species we least wanted in the UK” (Dr Aldridge, in The Guardian, 2014).

So what can we do?

Dr Aldridge is among those who have developed what is known as a Bio Bullet or ‘poison pill‘. The pill, made from the same material that mussels eat attracts and kills Quaggas. Importantly, the Bio Bullet does not harm other natural aquatic life while native mussels seem to know to avoid it.

Will this be the saviour? Only time will tell. Dr Aldridge may have access to the Bio Bullet but, since we are the greatest cause, how can we help?

Well, check, clean and dry all your equipment thoroughly, paying particular attention to every little nook and cranny! Although the larvae may be invisible, they are not invincible. To find out more about the Check, Clean and Dry campaign click here.

Taking these simple steps will help stem the spread of the Quagga mussel and other invasive species, keeping the shores of Norfolk safe once again from alien invasion.

Check, Clean, Dry Logo

Logo credited to NNSS

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About Matt Thorne

Works in Environment, Transport and Development at Norfolk County Council

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This entry was posted on October 21, 2014 by in Invasive Species, NNNSI and tagged , , .

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