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Alaskans urged to destroy moss balls that could contain invasive mussels

A popular aquarium product called moss balls could be harboring an invasive species.
A popular aquarium product called moss balls could be harboring an invasive species.(ktuu)
Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 4:34 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A tiny shellfish that can do tremendous damage has made its way to Alaska.

Last week, Alaska became one of at least 32 states to report finding zebra mussels in a product called moss balls which were sold at local pet stores.

Moss balls, which are actually a type of algae, are used in fishbowls and aquariums. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Invasive Species Coordinator Aaron Martin said zebra mussels found in moss balls could cause tremendous problems for the state.

 Courtesy of sdnewswatch.org
Courtesy of sdnewswatch.org (KSFY)

Once zebra mussels take hold in a waterway ,they cling to boats, docks and clog up pipes, causing problems for local utilities. Martin said states spend millions of dollars every year trying to remove them.

In Alaska, there is an additional concern. Because zebra mussels change the freshwater ecosystem they inhabit, they could have an impact on salmon.

“They change the food web. They replace the other native mussels, they push out other organisms and it becomes kind of a monoculture,” he said. “It replaces food sources that our juvenile salmon and other fish species, our trout, need for growing.’

So far zebra mussels have not been found in Alaska waters, according to Martin, but he said monitoring programs are likely to ramp up. For now, authorities are urging anyone who may have purchased a moss ball to destroy it.

Fish and Wildlife has extensive information on zebra mussels including instructions on how to safely destroy moss balls, including boiling and freezing to kill any larvae that may be inside.

One thing Martin said people should not do is pour the moss ball and the water it sits in down the drain.

“You could end up with zebra mussels potentially getting established in your home water system,” he said. “But also, all that stuff flushes down to our wastewater treatment plants and they’re not prepared to deal with something like this. There’s a lot of pipe between my home and Anchorage Water Utility where zebra mussels could get established and we wouldn’t know for a long time if that was there.”

Martin is also urging people to report if they have moss balls or zebra mussels by calling Fish and Game’s invasive species hotline number at 1-877- 468-2748.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add that Alaska became one of at least 32 states to report finding the mussels in moss balls sold at local pet stores after getting updated information from Fish and Game.

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