Zebra mussels slowing down but still spreading

Conservation officials say vigilant boaters have managed to slow the spread of zebra mussels through Missouri's waterways. "File"

A conservation official told KRCG 13 Thursday zebra mussels are still spreading through the state's waterways, but the rate of their advance is slowing.

Stephen McMurray, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said zebra mussels will attach to any hard surface, including rocks, boat hulls and even other crustaceans. Worse, zebra mussels reproduce at an alarming rate. McMurrsay said females produce up to 1 million eggs every year. He said zebra mussel larvae are microscopic, so it's impossible to tell with the naked eye whether they have contaminated any surface.

"They produce so many of them that it's easy to transport those around and not know that you're moving those," he said.

Zebra mussels first arrived in the ballast water of an international ship in 1986 and reached Missouri by 1994. They have thoroughly infested the Mississippi River. The Missouri River is comparatively free of the molluscs, but they have become a serious problem at the Lake of the Ozarks. McMurray said golf courses there have complained of zebra mussels clogging water intakes, preventing irrigation systems from working.

McMurray said once zebra mussels reach a water system, there is no way to get rid of them, so the best way to combat them is to limit their reach. He said boaters should clean their boats with a hard spray, drain any water out of it and let it dry in the sun for up to 14 days before moving to another body of water. McMurray credits the vigilance of Missouri boaters with slowing the zebra mussel's advance through the state's waterways. Still, McMurray said the number of private boats means it is only a matter of time before a body of water becomes infested.