It's smaller than a quarter, but the Asian Clam is causing some big concern in Owasco Lake. As Your News Now's Katie Gibas reports, divers were studying the problem this past weekend and they say right now, it looks like the clam population is containable and should be relatively easy to eliminate.
Owasco, NY, August 1, 2011 - The invasion of the Asian Clams sounds more like a science fiction movie than a real problem, but for Owasco Lake, it's starting to become a real problem.
"It's akin to an ecological game of Russian Roulette because you don't know exactly what can happen, the impacts on food webs can be anywhere from none to severe, so there's a risk anytime you introduce a new species," said David MacNeill, a New York Sea Grant Fisheries Specialist.
Amy Barra, an Environmental Educator with the Cayuga County Cornell Cooperative Extension, added, "They're releasing a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen into the water, which is a basically algae fertilizer."
That means the more clams, the more algae. And besides changing the taste and odor of the drinking water supply, certain types of algae including blue green algae can be harmful to pets and people.
"If the blue-green algae bloom were to happen during the swimming and boating season, it would be more of a concern. We would have to stop boating, particularly swimming, skiing, jet skiing, because it is a skin irritant and in high enough concentrations, it get dogs and small children sick," said Bruce Natale, an Environmental Engineer for Cayuga County.
Even though this Asian Clam population isn't causing any health concerns just yet, officials are working to contain the problem before it spreads.
"If it spreads all the way down the lake, we have that much bigger of an area to cover and it's also that much more expensive. Right now, since it's pretty shallow and only in a smaller area, it makes a lot more sense to try to control it now because it's cheaper for everybody," said Barra.
Experts believe the Asian Clams made their way into the lake from someone's boat or a bait bucket brought to Owasco from another watershed. Which is why experts say in addition to trying to kill the clams, they're starting a public education campaign to remind people of how to prevent spreading invasive species.
Experts say they will likely try to lower the lake levels enough to freeze the clams this winter. A preliminary report will be released at Owasco Lake Day this Sunday (August 7, 2011).
The YNN channel, based in Syracuse, telecasts two separate program feeds, one to Central/Northern New York; one to the Southern Tier. YNN is available to nearly 600,000 cable subscribers across a 25-county, 15,000 square mile area.
More from NYSG's Mac Neill on the invasive Asian Clam ...
On the most basic level, MacNeill, said, "All aquatic/marine organisms release and absorb nutrients. Clams, mussels and other shellfish are extremely efficient at removing nutrients and plankton and bottom materials. They're also are key links between the bottom and open water in exchanging and recycling nutrients."
Speaking of the Asian Clam, he continued, "It is believed that by filtering out nutrients and phytoplankton, this invasive clam can increase water clarity, causing more benthic plant growth (near bottom) and by removing mostly good phytoplankton, which could allow blue-green and other algae to become dominant. The fact that the clams remove nutrients (most likely phosphorus) from the water column also means the open water nutrients are more compartmentalized or shifted into into clam biomass. They also may shift the balance between nitrogen and phosphorus (N:P ratios), which could also be a mechanism for blue-green algae to bloom, which I think need a richer nitrogen supply. In some cases, Asian clams can also feed on blue-green algae."
Overall, MacNeill said, "It's really too early to tell how the clams are influencing nutrients in the lake. It's also very difficult to separate out their impacts from other processes that may be going on. Time will tell."