By Darren Lum
The Highlands is a shining example of how collaboration and volunteer commitment can effectively bring about positive change when it comes to being stewards of the lake.
This was the main message at the 12th annual lake stewards meeting on Saturday, May 14 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Haliburton.
With one year in the books for the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations (CHA) mystery snail project, it’s worthy of being celebrated said its leader, Brook Schryer, aquatic program specialist, invading species awareness program with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
He said it is inspiring to be in a room with the volunteers who helped with the removal of 490,000 banded snails and 63,000 Chinese mystery snails.
“That’s a huge victory. Even if it’s just going to give you folks agency, and, maybe not even, you know impact population this year, that’s still a huge achievement that needs to be commended,” he said.
There was media coverage which helped to raise the profile of the snail project on a national level.
Close to 300 passionate volunteers in the Highland s were involved with the snail project last year, who have been trained to identify, collect and aim to decrease mystery snails in the county’s lakes. Under the Federal fisheries act, snails are classified as crustaceans and fish, so removing them from the water requires a scientific collector’s permit through the Ministry of Northern Development Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.
Schryer said two volunteers were responsible for removing more than 17,000 Chinese mystery snails, essentially by hand or with makeshift tools such as a colander.
“But by and large that takes a lot of effort to remove that many snails. I know for a fact I spent two days and that was there on Koshlong Lake and there was four of us on the second day and, in total, we removed about 3,200 Chinese mystery snails. That’s like every two seconds we’re grabbing one,” he said.
He noted how one individual even removed 257,000 banded mystery snails last year. This effort included some 38 kilometres of shoreline being monitored by volunteers, which included the reporting of 26 lakes. The pilot project also made its digital impression with 36,000 social media impressions and 4,000 engagements.
Schryer said the Chinese mystery snail has a special ability to protect its offspring, which makes it a challenging invasive species.
“The reason why these things are so prevalent is because they actually protect their young when they’re hatching. So, they actually incubate their eggs internally, before giving birth to live offspring, which jumps over a life stage being eggs, which you know, normally eggs are very vulnerable [so] things will eat eggs, but because these are incubating them, what they’re doing is the mother is protecting them,” he said.
Summer to fall, he said, the young will be released, so getting out to remove the snails before this period helps to get ahead of the hatching. One Chinese mystery snail can have 100 embryos every year and can reproduce four of its five year lifespan, which he calls “exponential growth.”
CHA chairperson Paul MacInnes said to the audience, “People in this room should be incredibly proud of what we have achieved here in Haliburton County. This program was one of a kind. We were the only group. We were the first group to create the master licence. Before that the MNR wanted each lake, each person to apply for a licence and it was going to take two years to get it,” he said. “We went to our local MNR office. They were so cooperative with us and I said this is not working. We need a process where people can get a licence within months and we can deal with multiple water bodies and they, with Brook’s help, developed that program. This program is so well-known now across the world they call it the CHA Mystery Snail Program.”
He adds Schryer presented the program’s idea at an invasive species conference earlier this month in Belgium, showing the reach of this effort.
There’s now been interest in implementing this program in part of the States and in other provinces such as Alberta and Quebec.
“It’s very challenging to recruit volunteers, as I said before, because it’s very challenging to want to get involved because invasive species are such a huge problem. So, to have a group like yours that are so well situated on the front line of where mystery snails are and are willing to be trained for three hours, and then actually go out on your free time to remove these snails is completely commendable,” he said.
Clean, drain, dry (or disinfect) message to all watercraft users
As of Jan. 1 this year, the Ontario government has implemented new regulations that means watercraft equipment (boats, canoes and kayaks) are regarded as “carriers” under the Invasive Species Act, 2015.
The first two of the three points from the message are legal requirements. See www.ofah.org/insider/2022/03/ontarios-new-boater-pathway-regulations/ for more details.
The effort includes posting signage at boat launches, reminding the public about the sequence of actions, and hosting public events to inform water users where they will receive information and offered an opportunity to be led through the specific actions applied to watercraft to ensure there is reduction of moving invasive species from one body of water to another.
There are 20 events planned this boating season, including in Haliburotn County at Little Hawk, Redstone Lake, and Kennisis Lake. This effort also includes education for marinas, so they can also know and adhere to the safe practices. Part of the education’s signage at boat launches was funded through the partnership with the CHA, the four municipalities and the lake associations.
Blue-green algae challenges
During the “Ask the Experts” portion, the audience was invited to ask the attending experts questions.
One question from the audience was about the growth of blue-green algae blooms.
Biologist Carmen Pereira of Zygoptera Consulting said there have been first-time sightings of blue-green algae in Haliburton County lakes and this is attributed to rising temperatures caused by climate change.
“When it comes to blooms a lot of these blooms are lake particular and a lot of research we have on blooms particularly are from eutrophic lakes. What I mean by eutrophic is high nutrient. The lakes we have here in Haliburton are oliogotrophic. They’re low nutrient lakes. So, we don’t normally see a blue-green algae bloom in these lakes, but incidences are increasing,” she said.
She cited Three Mile Lake as a well-known example.
Norman Yan, an expert of lake health research and past chairman of the Friends of the Muskoka Watershed with 25 years of working for the Ministry of the Environment, added to the discussion saying that bloom growth isn’t only attributed to high phosphorus levels, but also other contributors such as how the drop in average wind speeds and how blue-green algae can move to different levels of the water to find nutrients to feed from are now being considered.
MacInnes said last year was a record year for blue-green algae blooms with 11 reported in Haliburton County. Many of which had never seen a bloom before, he said.