The Sunbreaker Cove boat launch at Sylvan Lake had a hint of a Wild West vibe happening on Friday.
A “wanted dead or alive” poster greeted boaters ready to hit the water, calling on them to catch the pesky culprits on the run for destroying aquatic habitats across the continent: the zebra and quagga mussel brothers.
Lacombe County and Alberta Environment staff were behind the holdup at Sunbreaker, hosting an awareness campaign to put a stop to the spread of the invasive, non-native mussels who are currently making a mess of the Great Lakes and smuggled their way into Manitoba last fall.
No mussels have been found in Alberta waters yet.
Voluntary boat inspections were offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the overflow parking lot and an information tent was set up near the launching ramp.
“It’s to raise awareness of what the species are, what they can do to the lake if we do get them and how to prevent them coming to Alberta,” said Cajun Paradis, acting environmental co-ordinator with Lacombe County.
Many of the states below Alberta, including Idaho and Montana, have mandatory inspection stations for boats leaving and entering the country. They stopped eight boats in the last two years that were positive for mussels and on their way to Alberta.
“Two of those boats were headed for Sylvan and Gull Lake,” Paradis said.
Conservation officers with Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation and local peace officers checked out a number of boats destined for Sylvan Lake, crawling underneath the vessels and peering into every nook and cranny of the motors.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever been inspected and it’s pretty official,” said Sylvan lake resident Gord Bredo. “We don’t take our boat anywhere but Sylvan but it’s good for boats heading out of province. Maybe they’ll catch some people who misuse the lake . . . It’s a great idea to make people aware of what’s going on because it’s all over the States and we did it to ourselves, you know.”
Zebra and quagga mussels are virtually impossible to eradicate once they have hitchhiked into new territory. One female mussel can produce up to a million eggs in a year and they will cost the province $75 million annually if they sneak across the border.
By noon, every boat that had come through the station had opted to have the 10-minute inspection carried out, for a total of about 20 boats.
“It was unexpected for sure but kind of cool,” said Chantal Goudreau of Edmonton, who was headed out for a day of boating with boyfriend Kurtis Kowall. “We learned some new things and it’s good to have that message reinforced because some people just don’t know.”
Kowall’s boat had recently been to Turtle Lake, Sask. but he said he made sure to give it a hot wash after the trip.
The best thing boaters can do to prevent the spread of mussels is clean, drain and dry their watercraft, said Paradis.
Remove all mud, plants and animals at the access area or dock and soak gear in a mixture of bleach and water for at least one minute as mussels can also travel on hip waders, paddles, life-jackets and other aquatic equipment. Boats and gear should be cleaned with hot water and all excess water should be drained from bait buckets, ballasts, bilges, coolers and internal compartments. Remove seals and let everything completely air dry.
Pamphlets, boat shammies, dry wallets and floating key chains were also handed out during the campaign and any participants in the inspections were eligible to enter a draw to win a marine safety kit, fire extinguisher, life-jackets and other prizes.
It was the first targeted event at a boat launch in Alberta for the mussels education campaign.