Education helps stem the tide of invaders

Sam Chan, a watershed health specialist with Oregon Sea Grant Extension. Photo by Bob Rost.
Sam Chan, a watershed health specialist with Oregon Sea Grant Extension. Photo by Bob Rost.
After a few months in California’s Lake Mead, Sam Chan’s shoes are covered with invasive zebra mussels. Photo by Peg Herring.
After a few months in California’s Lake Mead, Sam Chan’s shoes are covered with invasive zebra mussels. Photo by Peg Herring.

Sam Chan’s shoes are making the rounds. Chan, a watershed health specialist with Oregon Sea Grant Extension, displays his sneakers whenever he needs to make a point about aquatic invasive species. The shoes were submerged for a few months in California’s Lake Mead, and they are now completely encrusted with tiny, bead-like zebra mussels, one of the most invasive of freshwater alien species.

Except for these very dead ones decorating Chan’s sneakers, zebra mussels have not yet sneaked into Oregon. And Chan wants to keep them out. “It’s much more cost-effective to prevent invasive organisms from entering and establishing themselves in Oregon than having to treat an invasion,” he said.

Invasive aquatic species choke out native plants, displace native fish, and clog water intake pipes. According to the National Invasive Species Council, the U.S. spends $137 billion a year in an attempt to control and eradicate invasive species.

It’s easy for the problem to seem almost too big to bother with, even when you look at it on a local scale, Chan said. In the Columbia River Basin, one new invasive species is discovered every five months. “That could be really overwhelming, because by the time we have a plan in place to deal with one invasive species, there’s another on the horizon.”

People are often inadvertently to blame for introducing these invaders to places that are outside their natural range. A fisherman uses tui chub as live bait and releases the leftovers into a lake; or a teacher and her students “set free” the rusty crayfish that were a class project. Part of Chan’s job is to educate citizens about how invasive species that haven’t yet been found in Oregon – like zebra mussels – are spread.

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