In July 2009, zebra mussels were discovered in Laurel Lake in Lee/Lenox, MA. Laurel Lake is the first waterbody within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where zebra mussels have been discovered. Zebra mussels have also been reported in water bodies within the three states surrounding Berkshire County (New York, New Hampshire, and Connecticut). Zebra mussels are a significant threat to Onota Lake and 7 or 8 other lakes in the Berkshires, all of which have the inherent chemistry favorable for Zebra Mussel growth.
Zebra mussels have the potential to inhabit most of the fresh waters of the U.S. and may impact a variety of native aquatic species and eventually entire ecosystems. These mussels are anchoring themselves by the thousands to native mussels making it impossible for the native mussel to function. As many as 10,000 zebra mussels have attached to a single native mussel. Native mussels have all but disappeared in Lake St. Clair and the western basin of Lake Erie where the Zebra Mussel infestation is believed to have originated. Female mussels can lay over one million eggs in a spawning season. They attach themselves to a hard surface and are difficult to remove. The larvae (called veligers) are microscopic in size and are undetectable by the human eye. They can be unknowingly transported in boat live wells and bait buckets or anything that carries small amounts of water (even on SCUBA equipment).
Zebra mussels were first discovered in the Great Lakes where their rapid spread caused substantial ecological and environmental impacts. The introduction of zebra and quagga mussels into the Great Lakes appears to be the result of ballast water discharge from ships. Freshwater fishing and boating activities aid in the spread of zebra mussels allowing for overland transport or movement between water bodies.
The zebra mussel’s ability to rapidly colonize hard surfaces causes serious economic problems. These major biofouling organisms can clog water intake structures, such as pipes and screens, therefore reducing pumping capabilities for power and water treatment plants, costing industries, companies, and communities. Recreation-based industries and activities have also been impacted; docks, breakwalls, buoys, boats, and beaches have all been heavily colonized.
The introduction of zebra and quagga mussels into a waterbody dramatically and irreversibly changes the natural characteristics and use of the waterbody. Onota Lake, and the other Berkshire County lakes, has been extremely fortunate that the threat of zebra and quagga mussels has not yet impacted our waters. Without aggressive steps to prevent the infestation, it is only a matter of time before these harmful nuisances arrive. Prevention is the key as there is currently no known “silver bullet” approach to eliminating them once established.