The public is urged to be on the lookout for an invasive species that threatens to choke up the Welland River and could affect shipping on the Great Lakes waterways if not contained.
The European water chestnut is an invasive plant that came to Canada from the eastern United States and is found in sections of the Welland River.
It creates large, thick patches of leaves on the surface of the water, which blocks out light, killing other plants in the river. It also leads to anoxic conditions, where there is no oxygen in the water, which leads to fish deaths.
Recreation on the river is also affected by the plant. The seeds have barbs that are half an inch long, so sharp that they can slice through skin and leather.
The plant also makes it hard for boats to navigate the water, as they can get stuck in engines and make paddling difficult.
Karen Alexander, policy co-ordinator at the Invasive Species Centre (ISC), said that although the species is currently contained to specific sections of the Welland River, it could take over a decade to eradicate the plant since the seeds can still sprout 10 to 15 years later.
There are also fears that it could spread to the Great Lakes water network and cause problems for shipping.
Alexander said that in the eastern United States, where the species has taken hold, authorities are spending millions of dollars to get it under control.
“We really don’t want to let this species take hold in Ontario,” she said.
The species was first spotted in the river in summer 2020 and last year the ISC and a team from Ducks Unlimited Canada went out to see how bad the problem was.
Fortunately, they decided the situation was manageable, but work needs to be done to contain the plant to the current 26-kilometre stretch of river and eventually eradicate it.
To deal with the issue, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is sending out an invading species “hit squad” to pull out the plant safely and dispose of it effectively.
The public also has a role to play in controlling this invasive plant.
The ISC is running two paddling tours later this year to educate the public and hold a session to pull the plants out of the river. Those interested in the tours can keep an eye on the ISC website for more information.
If you see the plant, you can report its location on EDDMapS, which will help authorities keep an eye on where the plant is spreading. This is especially important if you see it outside of the Welland River, which would show that the plant is spreading to other waterways.
Boaters on the river should also take care not to go through the chestnuts or create wake around them, which would break up the plant and encourage it to spread downriver.
Alexander warned that this episode is a reminder that people should think carefully about what they plant in their gardens, since the outbreak of water chestnuts was thought to be started by a gardener in Massachusetts who put the plant in his pond.
Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News