Mountain-Prairie Region Dive Team Update
Scuba dive team trains for invasive mussel searches
By: Larry Lockard, USFWS Fish and Wildlife Biologist
Four members of the Mountain-Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) Dive Team recently completed training in the Columbia River at a U.S Geological Survey course, Procedures for Conducting Underwater Searches for Invasive Mussels.
The course was sponsored under the 100th Meridian Initiative which funds activities to prevent the spread of invasive mussels. Members of the Dive Team are highly trained volunteer scuba divers from the Service's Refuges, Fisheries, and Ecological Services programs.
Zebra mussels, native to Eastern Europe, were first detected in the Great Lakes in 1988. Since then, they have spread throughout the Eastern, Midwestern, and Southern United States. In 2007, quagga mussels (a cousin of the zebra mussel) were found in Lake Mead, Nevada. Both species can have profound and adverse effects on water bodies, through depleting nutrients from bodies of water and by obstructing water control and recreational equipment.
Quagga and zebra mussels are unique in that, unlike native mussels in the United States, these species attach themselves to hard objects rather than living in river or lake bottom sediments.
In the Mountain-Prairie Region, only certain waters in Montana and Wyoming are connected to the Columbia River and so far no mussels have been detected in either state. However, state and federal managers are deeply concerned that the invasive mussels will continue to spread to the Columbia River Basin and have major impacts on the region's ecosystem, water delivery infrastructure, hydroelectric projects, recreation, and the economy.
The transport and use of recreational watercraft throughout the Western United States could easily result in spreading mussels to the Columbia River Basin. Efforts by the states to prevent the spread of mussels are ongoing through operation of many Watercraft Inspection and Decontamination Stations.
Under the 100th Meridian Initiative, Service personnel in Montana were certified this year as “Level II Responders/Trainers” to conduct training of other Service personnel in Watercraft Inspection to assure that Service movement of watercraft and recreational use of Service waters does not contribute to the spread of invasive mussels.
However, there is still concern that these efforts will not be 100% effective. When prevention efforts fail, early detection of mussels may provide an opportunity to implement rapid response management actions to minimize the impact. Control and eradication efforts are more likely to be successful if they are implemented when the density of mussels is low and area of infestation is small.
Early implementation of containment and eradication efforts requires getting reliable information to confirm the location and extent of the infestation. The most effective way to obtain this information is through the use of properly trained scuba divers.
Using standardized techniques, scuba divers can verify the presence of invasive mussels, document the extent of the infestation, and quantify the intensity of the mussel colonization. The Mountain-Prairie Region has four members of its Dive Team trained to conduct these underwater searches for invasive mussels.