Golden mussels were introduced to South America back in the early 1990’s, by hitching a ride on ships from China. Though, this voyaging mollusk is now impeding on the environment in and around the Amazon River and threatening to disrupt the gentle ecosystem of one of the world’s most important waterways.
The golden mussel has already spread throughout five countries in South America. The traveler was once viewed as a non-threatening species; however, biologists now believe that they are much more of a hazard to the ecological balance of some areas. The mussels are spreading very quickly, and devour any and all underwater plant life along the way. Brazil has now labelled the golden mussel as an invasive species, and is trying to stop them from advancing further and destroying river plant life.
Though, the damage they have caused is much worse than wiping out plant life. The mussels have nearly eradicated all native Brazilian clams. They do this by sealing their shell on the mollusk, and attacking them from the inside. Moreover, they have stormed through water treatment plants in Argentina, Brazil, and in other regions of South America. They attack the treatment facilities by lodging themselves inside pipes, and clogging them. This costs the facilities millions of dollars every year to have them cleared out.
Even worse, golden mussels can be deadly to humans. As they reproduce, the mussels alter the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. Such action allows for algae to overgrow, which is highly toxic for the environment. Also, an overgrowth of algae will suck up all the oxygen in a locked body of water like a pond or a lake and starve fish of oxygen, thus killing them.
Scientists are trying to determine how this mussel came to be such a detriment to the environment, and how it is nearly unstoppable. Golden mussels are small – about an inch in length. They are active breeders, very active and very efficient breeders. For nine months during the year, the mussels will breed by ejecting clouds of larvae that are carried along with the ocean currents. Afterwards, the young larvae attach themselves to any hard surface like rocks, coral, man-made objects, and even to other mussels. In just a short length of time they become a reef-like structure.
Hugh MacIssac, a college professor who is an expert in this field and studies these mussels closely, stated that the golden mussel needs to be pushed out of and away from the Amazon region. He explained that if they were to reach the river, they would over run the entire area and the consequences would be great.
Currently, the mussels appear to have reached a point 1,200 miles from the Amazon and are held back by the stretches of land that isolate the Amazon River. Though, the invasive creatures could be very easily spread by fisherman or vessels that are transported from other areas to the Amazon River. Therefore, Professor MacIssac said that everything needs to be done to avoid the golden mussel from invading the Amazon, one of the most important rivers in the world.
By: Alex Lemieux
Picture: Rob – Flickr License