A foreign mussel has taken hold in Tampa Bay, threatening native species and clogging intake pipes.
By Amy Welch
In late 1999, Tampa Electric Co. sent divers into Tampa Bay to find out what was blocking saltwater from reaching its plant through underwater pipes. They discovered that thousands of emerald green mussels, not native to the area, had clogged the pipes, causing generators to shut down.
Researchers identified the mollusks as Asian green mussels, native to the Pacific and Indian oceans and a delicacy in Asia. Scientists suspect that thousands of mussel larvae arrived in the holds of cargo ships, the way many non-indigenous water species come here. Most such creatures don't survive long, but "the green mussel is here to stay," says Nancy Smith, a marine biologist at Eckerd College.
As many as 10,000 mussels per square meter have been found on bridge pilings, buoys, piers and pipes and have spread as far south as Charlotte Harbor, taking over native clam and oyster habitats. Researchers are concerned over declines in the oyster population because, unlike mussels, "oysters create natural reefs with their shells, which attract and produce fish," says Patrick Baker, a University of Florida fisheries and aquatic sciences researcher.
Baker fears the mussels will spread to the Gulf of Mexico, hurting the fishing industry and creating "a major ecological impact" by smothering other bivalves and disrupting the natural food chain, which is what he suspects is happening in Tampa Bay.
Eradicating the mussels is next to impossible because they reproduce so prolifically. Harvesting the mussels might be an option, but they are reproducing in many areas closed to harvesting because of pollution.
After scraping the mussels off, TECO began coating its intake pipes with copper to make it harder for the mussels to attach. But the mussels struck back, producing their own "matting" to attach to the pipes. Although the company doesn't know how much it has spent to clean out the mussels, executives say they send divers down once a month to scrape the pipes.
Without a good solution for conquering the mussels, Baker and Smith suggest at least trying to curb the spreading. Boaters, they say, should wash their boats thoroughly before setting them down in other bodies of water. "It could be that the mussels can't move on their own," Baker says. "We can help reduce the negative impacts they cause."
In the News
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St. Joe Sells Arvida Realty Services
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Coldwell plans to close ARS' headquarters and about 100 offices and eliminate 765 jobs. St. Joe Co. does not plan to sell its Arvida community development unit.