Incredibly Invasive Marine Species Detected in Colorado Lake For the First Time

by Taylor Cunningham

A zebra mussel, an incredibly invasive marine species, has been confirmed in Colorado’s Highline lake, according to the state’s Parks and Wildlife department.

“CPW found a single adult zebra mussel on a piece of substrate (PVC pipe) in the lake during routine invasive species sampling on Sept. 14,” the department announced in a news release. “Two CPW experts have independently confirmed the identification of the mussel through visual identification methods. And genetic confirmation was also made on the sample.”

The invasive species is a fingernail-sized freshwater mollusk that’s native to Eurasia, most specifically Southern Russia and Ukraine. Zebra mussels started turning up in the US Great Lakes after catching rides on European ships. And they’ve since spread to Texas, Utah, Nevada, Mississippi, and California. The most recent discovery is the first in Colorado.

Unfortunately, the mollusks feed on algae that native species need to survive. They also attach to and kill native muscles. So their impact on ecosystems can be devastating.

To get ahead of the situation, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is increasing its efforts to monitor Highline Lake. All boats will also have to pass an inspection before entering the water and decontaminate before moving into another body of water.

“If a boater leaving Highline Lake intends to launch in a different water body, their boat must be decontaminated before launching by a certified professional,” the release continued. “Due to these additional constraints, boaters can expect decreased ramp hours and longer exit wait times for the remainder of the month. Highline Lake closes to all surface-water activities annually on October 1.”

Colorado Lake Not ‘Infested’ With Invasive Species

While CPW admits that the mussel is “an unfortunate discovery,” the department stresses that Highline Lake is not “considered infested” yet. As of now, officials have only found one zebra mussel. There has been no proof that the invasive species is reproducing.

Over the winter, the department will continue to monitor and assess the situation. And hopefully, it will be able to stop the mussel from being a threat. If it can’t, working to remove the nuisance can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. And eradicating the problem can be difficult if not impossible.

“This is an unfortunate discovery and something we have been working very hard to prevent,” CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan said. “It shows why we need a robust inspection program. As more and more people move to or visit Colorado and use our water resources for boating, we must continue to work hard to prevent the spread of these harmful invasive species. We cannot overstate how serious this is,”