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Students join battle against mussels

Vernon Morning Star, Feb. 21, 2016: A group of youth fears the Okanagan, as we know it, could disappear. Students at Vernon Community School have launched a campaign to raise awareness about quagga and zebra mussels and the negative impact they could create for local lakes, recreation and the economy.

“Without the lakes in Vernon, the town wouldn’t be what it is today. It will be a bit of a ghost town because we would lose tourism,” said student Jameson Love.

The mussels are native to Europe and they have spread across North America since the 1980s.

One female can spawn one million eggs per year, meaning they can infest a lake rapidly. That translates into razor-sharp and foul-smelling shells on the beaches.

They also clog water intake pipes, pumps and boat motors, placing local infrastructure at risk.

“Fish will die and the ecosystem will be ruined,” said Love of the fact that the filter-feeding mussels decimate lake plankton.

In the Great Lakes, the lake trout population has decreased by 95 per cent because of the mussels.

One of the first steps the class has taken is to write Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster and the provincial government.

“We’re asking what they are doing to prevent this?” said student Dannon MacKay.

Other letters to elected officials will also be sent out, while an art project is being developed that features clay mussels in a sink.

A motion-capture video is also being created.

“It will show mussels taking over a lake,” said Brynne Morrice, an actor and filmmaker who released a six-minute documentary on mussels and is working with the students at Vernon Community School. “I’m helping take their ideas and blow oxygen into the flame. They see how the mussels could affect their lives and their future.”

Also assisting the students is Michelle Mitchell, with the Society for the Protection of Kalamalka Lake.

“Water is important to all of us and we need to do our best to protect it,” said Mitchell. “We need people to think more about the lakes.”

The students will continue to spread the word, and they remain hopeful the mussels can be stopped from arriving in the Okanagan.

“With the right action, we can do it,” said Devin Buskop.

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