Temple Chamber of Commerce | Ashley Schlosser, Temple Health & Bioscience District
If your summer travel plans include a trip down the I-35 corridor or a call to the Texas State Parks reservation line, you are sure to hear about a silent predator making waves in our local lakes: the infamous zebra mussel.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), zebra mussels are “an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk native to fresh waters in Eurasia.” After arriving in the Great Lakes in the 1980s, zebra mussels spread rapidly throughout the U.S. via the Mississippi River. The miniscule creatures make a tremendous impact on native ecosystems. Zebra mussels filter algae that native animals need to survive. They also attach themselves to and incapacitate mussels that have long called Central Texas lakes home. Impacted power plants and water treatment facilities spend millions of dollars each year removing zebra mussels from clogged water intakes.
So, what can be done about this invasive species? Boaters across Central Texas are strongly encouraged by Texas Parks & Wildlife to “Clean, drain, dry your boat,” to minimize the spread. Failure to remove zebra mussels or lawfully dispose of harmful aquatic life clinging to an attached vessel could result in as much as a $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail. Lake goers are similarly discouraged from transporting water from wells and bait buckets from one body of water to another.
In an effort to understand this invasive species and increase public awareness of the problem, the Temple Health & Bioscience District approved a $6,000 grant to the Temple College Biological Research Institute for student-driven research projects to measure Zebra Mussel Growth and Public Awareness in Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
“Our lakes are changing,” said Thomas Baird, chairman of the Temple Health and Bioscience District board. “Oxygen levels are dropping, which means fewer fish.”
Jason Locklin, chairman of the Temple College biology department, is guiding the student-driven research. The study compares growth rates in Bell County lake environments. The research also aims to assess the effectiveness of eDNA sampling as a means of monitoring zebra mussel presence and analyze public awareness of the infestation.