GRAND ISLE, Vt. — With the first sighting of a new aquatic species in the Lake Champlain water basin, officials are moving into action in hopes of preventing the creature from entering the lake.
Scientists studying the invasion by the spiny water flea believe action should take place immediately.
FOUND IN CANAL
The tiny animal, originally from Eurasia, feeds off plankton and can severely impact the food chain in a body of water it invades; it was identified earlier this month in the Champlain Canal.
Two individual water fleas were found in a water sample taken north of Lock 9 in the Champlain Canal, and three specimens were identified in samples taken from the western end of the Glens Falls feeder canal.
“That means the hydrological flow of water will take it into Lake Champlain, unless we can come up with a means of preventing its movement,” said Meg Modley, aquatic nuisance specialist for the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
“With a number of experts in our basin and in other areas familiar with control technologies that exist for managing spiny water fleas, we are looking at possible barriers on the canal that would help prevent it from getting into Lake Champlain,” she said of the regional task force already working on the problem.
SHUT OFF LOCKS
Scientists from the Lake Champlain Research Institute, who have been monitoring the canal and were first to identify the invader, would like to see an immediate response to prevent the spiny water flea from moving into the main lake.
“We need to start pulling the plug in the canal to keep them from Lake Champlain,” said research scientist Timothy Mihuk. “We need to close the bottom three locks and possibly the (Glens Falls) feeder lock as well.
“That should not only be considered as an option; it should be the option.”
A 10-mile stretch of canal flows between where the invaders were identified and the lake, and samples have not found any trace of water fleas beyond Lock 9, which is at Smith’s Basin.
“There is a chance to do something, but that is going to require someone to do something,” said Mihuk of his desire to see the top three locks closed until a permanent solution can be found.
“Sitting around is not an option. Once they (the water fleas) are in (Lake Champlain), it’s all over. All we can do then is sit back and watch it invade.”
The spiny water flea was first identified in Great Sacandaga Lake in the Central Adirondacks in 2008.
There is no clear understanding of the impact spiny water fleas would have on Lake Champlain, but experts are betting on some significant possibilities.
“The species is highly invasive, though the economic and environmental impacts are an unknown,” Modley said. “It will impact anglers, if the species does well, and it will compete for plankton within our food web.”
Although it is very difficult to see individual spiny water fleas, the creatures do tend to collect en masse and are known to foul up fishing equipment as they gather on lines, rigs and other items.
How severe a detriment their presence would be on the lake’s fishery is unknown. Every lake has its own types of plants and animals that make up the plankton at the bottom of the food chain.
In the Great Lakes, for instance, a creature called daphnia is an important part of the plankton base, and other animals in the lake thrive on it, as does the spiny water fleas.
Daphnia is not a significant part of the Lake Champlain plankton base, however.
“Unfortunately, if it gets in, we’ll have to watch and see what happens,” Modley said. “We will be able to say in a few years what happened, but we’re unable to say what will happen, though it will probably not be good. New species outcompeting native species is not healthy.”
Experts will analyze possible measures for preventing the spread of spiny water fleas from the canals, including types of barriers that may do the trick.
“We are in rapid-response mode,” Modley said. “That decision (to use some kind of barrier) has to be made within the next couple of weeks. Beyond that, we will have to move into education and outreach” should the spiny water flea move downstream into Lake Champlain.
Email Jeff Meyers: email@example.com