I recently spoke with Ben Ricks, District Fisheries Biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) about the recent team effort to eradicate exotic apple snails (Pomacea insularum) in Langan Municipal Park Lake and Threemile Creek, Mobile, Alabama (see Recent News). Ben had a positive attitude, “Everything went as well as could be expected given the short period to prepare. We got rid of a bunch of snails!”
While Langan Lake and Threemile Creek are important aquatic assets for Mobile, the urgency of this battle comes from the fact that they are connected to a true ecological gem, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Within this National Natural Landmark, more than 300 square miles of marshes, swamps, and bottomlands are now in danger of invasion by the exotic apple snails. This summer, the exotic apple snails were sighted only one mile upstream from one of the most biologically diverse and second largest river deltas in the U.S.
WFF sought assistance and council from a number of experts, volunteer organizations, and public agencies: The City of Mobile, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama Marine Resources Division, U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Mobile Baykeeper and the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. Even Snail Busters contributed to the effort by providing thirty, deeply-discounted apple snail traps.
The control project had a three-pronged approach: trapping adults, scraping the eggs, and treating the adults with copper. Three days before the copper treatments, Snail Busters’ traps were used to assess the initial population. “The traps worked great,” Ben said. “They really did the job!” During the treatment, the minnow traps were used as “sentinel traps” to obtain an estimate of the efficacy of the copper treatment. “Sixty to seventy percent of the snails inside the traps were dead after treatment.”
Two tons of copper sulfate was applied to Langan Pond and Threemile Creek using a blower to achieve the target of 2 ppm copper sulfate (0.5 ppm elemental copper). “Four ppm killed them every time in the lab, but 2 ppm also worked well” Ben said. In deference to preventing non-target mortality, they used the lower concentration. “Not a single fish died,” Ben happily reported. “Some Asiatic Clams (Corbicula fluminea) were killed, but that’s just a bonus, because they are another invasive, exotic species.”
Volunteers, especially hardy souls associated with Mobile Baykeeper, worked diligently to scrape apple snail eggs from the shoreline. “It’s a very time-consuming job,” Ben groaned. “We’re going to try a pressure washer next year!” He also discussed tentative plans to reduce the dense stands of emersed vegetation that provide excellent reproductive habitat for the exotic snails.
Summing it up, Ben said, “We got a lot of apple snails and made a really good dent in the population, but we going to continue trapping and compare numbers. “So far, pre-treatment rate was 222 snails and post was 32 snails. A seven-fold decrease isn’t that bad. The bottom line is that we need adequate funding for next year.” Thanks for the update and all the hard work, Ben. The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is certainly worth the fight! Posted by Jess Van Dyke
For additional information, contact WFF Biologist Ben Ricks by phone at (251)-626-5153, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Video of Lagan Pond from WPMI Ch 15 Mobile:
Image of trap from Press-Register, Bill Starling photographer