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NATURE

Black-striped mussels threaten Australia

In its preferred inshore, low salinity estuarine habitats, introduced populations of black-striped mussels may form virtual monocultures up to six inches (15 cm) thick   

April 22, 1999
Web posted at: 2:00 PM EDT





Australia may be on the brink of a marine pest infestation that is eerily similar to the zebra mussel invasion that caused tremendous economic and ecological damage to the North American Great Lakes system. The black-striped mussel, a tremendously prolific cousin of the zebra mussel, has been found in three marinas in Australia.

Divers from the Centre for Research on Introduced Marine Pests discovered the fingernail-sized pest during a scheduled survey of the Port of Darwin in late March.

So far, scientists believe the black-striped mussel is confined to three marina locations. The Cullens Bay, Tipperary and Frances Bay marinas have been quarantined and Cullens Bay Marina has been treated with chlorine.

The black-striped mussel is a native of Central American tropical and subtropical eastern Pacific waters, extending from the Gulf of Mexico to Colombia. It matures quickly and reproduces readily, with tens of thousands of eggs likely to be released at each spawning. In its preferred inshore, low salinity estuarine habitats, introduced populations of black-striped mussels may form virtual monocultures up to six inches (15 cm) thick.

Scientists believe the mussels were transported on ships travelling through the Panama Canal.

The economic cost of infestation can be staggering. The zebra mussel infestation in the Great Lakes is estimated to cost around $600 million a year in remedial engineering, cleaning pipes and water systems and similar infrastructure repairs. The cost to the ecosystem and the extinction events cannot be measured.
The Cullens Bay Marina has been treated with chlorine and quarantined   

The black-striped mussel has the capacity to colonize tropical and subtropical areas in northern Australia from Freemantle to Sydney as well as the warmer parts of the South Australian gulfs, if transported there, according to marine experts. Colonization impacts include massive overgrowth, fouling of wharves, marinas, recreational and inshore vessels, seawater systems (e.g., mariculture pumping facilities, vessel ballast and cooling systems) and marine farms (e.g., pearl oysters).

Ecological impacts are more difficult to forecast, but are likely to be substantial.

To combat the infestation, a national task force has been established and Cullen bay marina was treated immediately with chlorine. Scientists are working to develop other treatment methods as the problem unfolds, and efforts are being made to track vessels that have visited the three infected areas and to treat any found to be infected with the mussel.

The Australian government is also providing funding for the development of a national policy for dealing with marine incursions.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved



RELATED STORIES:
Invaders among us
January 25, 1999
Mussels: the nation's most endangered family
December 18, 1998


RELATED ENN STORIES:
Babbitt goes after biotic slurry
Marine pests on the rampage in Australia
Zebra mussels flourish in Lake Erie sand
Zebra mussels are spreading rapidly
Farmers join war against seastars, green crab

RELATED SITES:
CSIRO, Australia's scientific research facility
Zebra mussel information
Invasive species: Ecological processes and human impacts
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