Local wildlife officials plead with public to check aquariums if you use Marimo moss balls

SPOKANE, Wash. — After a nationwide outbreak at Petco and PetSmart this week, Washington fish and wildlife officials say it’s imperative aquarium owners check for highly invasive zebra mussels.

The mussels multiply rapidly and quickly damage the ecosystems they’re in. They clog pipes, dams and other underwater infrastructures, and when set free in local lakes and rivers, there’s no way to reverse the spread.

“They can grow into three-dimensional colonies that smother native species, and they also can clog water supply intakes and hydro-power facilities,” said Allen Pleus, Washington’s Aquatic Invasive Species Policy Coordinator. “Unfortunately, it can only take one aquarium dump to be the problem.”

If you’re an aquarium owner, the sooner you act, the better off the state will be in the long run because these zebra mussels will have lasting effects on Washington’s environment and tax payer’s wallets if not contained.

“We know that it will cost the state of Washington at least 100 million dollars annually just to keep our power systems running and our agricultural water flowing,” said Justin Bush, the Executive Coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council. “It’s a huge problem.”

Here’s what you need to do if you have these moss balls in your aquarium. First, remove the moss balls. Place them in boiling water for at least a minute and then throw them away. Additionally, clean and sanitize your whole aquarium in case any tiny mussels were left behind. Adult zebra mussels can get to be as big as a quarter. Wildlife officials are confident this outbreak can be contained because of retailers and officials fast response, but it will take everyone on board to stop the spread before it gets out of hand.

“Be good aquarium owners. Do not dump these out,” said Eric Anderson who leads Washington’s Aquatic Invasive Species Enforcement team. “We know this is a threat. We’re pleading with the public. Step up and do the right thing.”

While this is a problem across the country right now, Washington has a lot more to lose than other states because the state’s worked so hard to keep zebra mussels out.

“There’s so much at state in our state with regards to this particular species and the fact that the Columbia River is the last great river basin in America that does not have zebra mussels. It is the river basin that absolutely has the most to lose on it,” Anderson said.

Fish and Wildlife officials also want to be there to help you through this process with any questions you have. All you have to do is take a picture of what you’re concerned about and follow the instructions here on how to submit the picture. An expert will contact you with the next appropriate steps.

READ: Invasive zebra mussels popping up in aquarium products nationwide, including in Washington