Heathrow Mollusc Scourge – The Quagga Mussel


The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) has announced that, in the course of water quality testing, a species of mollusc capable of wreaking dire havoc in the United Kingdom has been discovered at Wraysbury reservoir, close to Heathrow Airport, and the Wraysbury River, a tributary of the River Coine that is itself a Thames tributary.

What a quagga mollusc scourge entails

The quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis rostriformis) originated from Ukraine and is generally the size of a human thumbnail and never more than two inches long. It breeds abundantly, with a mature female producing up to a million eggs a year. Its mammoth colonies could lead to a mollusc scourge by attaching to hard surfaces, which could block pipes, perhaps causing flooding, and cause problems with canal lock gates and boat propellers. It consumes pollutants, transforming them into potently toxic faeces that neither wildlife nor people will welcome.

The quagga mussel eats plankton, depriving native fish of food. It outcompetes native mussels, reducing their populations. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology labelled it “an ecosystem engineer” because it changes entire ecosystems. Earlier in 2014, the quagga mussel was unanimously chosen by scientists from over 20 research institutions as the species posing the greatest danger to the wildlife of the United Kingdom in a study that was published in Global Change Biology. A non-native species could cause a river to fail stringent EU targets. There is no known method of exterminating the quagga mussel (1).

What people can do

Jeff Knott, the WWT’s head of conservation policy, referred to this mollusc scourge as “a very worrying, but entirely predictable development” that might be “devastating.” He accused the innocuous-looking quagga mussel of contributing to the damaging and death of hundreds of thousands of British animals and plants and increasing the cost of protecting supplies of eau potable to humans. He called upon anglers, boaters and other water users to inspect their equipment to avoid transferring quagga mussels from one body of water to another. He also warned of “the next invasive species.”

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is taking action in cooperation with the Angling Trust, local angling clubs and Thames Water. The River Thames and reservoirs will be monitored.

In the United States, the Hoover Dam, on the border between Arizona and Nevada, is in the throes of its own mollusc scourge. There, quagga mussels have infiltrated the dam’s pipes and turbines which supply water to Las Vegas.

About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

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