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New UF Low-Power Radio Stations On I-75 And I-95 Warn Travellers About Zebra Mussels

Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Don Jackson
Marion Clarke (352) 392-1837
Tom Quinn (850) 488-6253

GAINESVILLE—Fears that zebra mussels could become the next nuisance pest to invade Florida have prompted University of Florida officials to start broadcasting warnings to visitors about the meddlesome mollusks.

Two new low-power radio stations on Interstates 75 and 95 near the Georgia border now broadcast zebra mussel advisories, and a third station is planned for I-10 near the Alabama border. Signs give station frequencies and ask motorists to tune in.

The first two stations, which operate 24 hours daily at 1300 AM and 1610 AM, urge tourists to stop at Florida Welcome Centers to get more information about checking their boats, trailers and other aquatic equipment for zebra mussels that may be hitching a ride into the state.

“The fact that we need special stations to warn people coming into the state underscores how serious the danger really is,” said Don Jackson, coordinator of the broadcast project for the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Sea Grant College program.

Jackson said the main target audience is the recreational boater who may unknowingly transport the pest into the state. More than 400,000 tourists bring boats into Florida every year.

“Many come from areas in the Southeast where the zebra mussel is already established,” he said. “If their boats and trailers are not properly cleaned, they could carry the pest into Florida — that’s our biggest worry.”

If zebra mussels become established in the state, the public will see an immediate increase in the cost of products and services that depend on surface water, Jackson said.

“For example, large intake pipes have become clogged with zebra mussels to the point of closing down power plants in the Great Lakes, and this could happen in Florida, too,” he said.

In a state that already has more than its share of exotic pests, zebra mussels pose an alarming threat because they are such prolific reproducers, said Marion Clarke, assistant dean for Sea Grant. Worse yet, zebra mussels have no natural predators to help control their numbers.

Clarke said they are the only fresh water mollusks that attach themselves to solid objects such as boat hulls, trailers and outboard motors. Adult zebra mussels can live several days out of water.

“Boaters should learn how to identify zebra mussels and be aware of currently infested waters,” Clarke said. “If they have used their boat in infested waters, they should inspect and clean all equipment before leaving the site.”

He said proper cleaning includes using hot water to flush the engine cooling system, live wells and bilge. The boat and trailer should be allowed to dry for three or four days before they are used again. Other gear such as fishing poles and snorkeling equipment should be checked.

Named for their alternating dark and light stripes, zebra mussels are thumbnail-size mollusks that were first identified in North America in 1988 in the ballast water of foreign cargo ships. The mussels have spread throughout the Great Lakes and worked their way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. In the Great Lakes region alone, more than $5 billion has been spent to repair and prevent damage from the pest.

During the larval stage, a zebra mussel is free-floating and almost invisible, which means they can be carried from contaminated sources. Once established, zebra mussels are difficult and expensive to control or remove.

In 1997, Florida Sea Grant researchers identified waterways in the state that could be vulnerable to a zebra mussel invasion. Clarke said water bodies north of Lake Okeechobee, including the St. Johns River system and waterways in the Big Bend region, could be hospitable habitat for zebra mussels.

Tom Quinn, an inspector with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, said residents and visitors need to know it’s illegal to bring zebra mussels into the state of Florida or to have them in your possession.

“It’s a second-degree misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail,” Quinn said.