From: Associated Press
Published September 23, 2004 12:00 AM

Spain Calls Out the Army to Fight Pesky Zebra Mussel

MADRID, Spain — Soldiers went underwater to battle a tiny but prolific new enemy, using spatulas and vacuum cleaners against mussels infesting Spain's mightiest river.


The army offensive took place last week in northeast Spain as part of a research project on how to tackle a plague of striped mollusks called zebra mussels, a nightmare for conservationists and utilities across Europe and in the United States, Spanish environmental officials said Tuesday.


The creatures, about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) long as adults, attach themselves to any kind of hard surface and pile on top of each other, reproducing exponentially as they clog water intake conduits at power plants and gobble up plankton that is a source of food for fish.


In the United States, officials say the mussels have caused billions of dollars (euros) of damage in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.


"Nobody anywhere in the world knows how to eradicate them," said Eduardo Sanchez, spokesman for the environmental department of the Aragon regional government.


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In Spain the mussels now contaminate at least three reservoirs used to generate electricity along the Ebro River, Spain's biggest.


In last week's experiment a team of army divers used their bare hands, scrapers, knives, and a special suction pump to study how much time and money it can cost to rid a given area of the mussels — at least until they come back and reproduce.


At the Ribarroja reservoir where the troops toiled, the mussel population is estimated at a robust 200,000 per square meter (20,000 per square foot).


The mussels are native to the Caspian Sea but have made their way west over the past 200 hundred years or so, apparently attached to ship hulls, Sanchez said.


The mussels are inedible because they contain toxins. "If we could eat them, the problem would be solved," said Maria Moedano of a Spanish environment ministry agency focusing on the Ebro.


Source: Associated Press


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