Specialist: Waterway lovers should attend educational meeting on invasive algae

Getting excited about opening day? Ready to get out and recreate in and around your favorite stream?

Before you slip on yor waders, attend the aquatic invasive species workshop planned on March 18 in Wellsboro. Hear from leading experts about potential invasive intruders in the Northern Tier, how to identify invasive species of concern and how to prevent the spread of these species through reporting and simple cleaning methods.

This is especially important for users of Pine Creek and nearby streams because an organism called didymo (“rock snot”) was found in several locations of the creek for the first time in 2013.

Didymo is not a significant human health risk, but it can negatively affect stream food webs and be a nuisance for angling and recreation.

It only takes a single cell in a drop of water to transfer it to another stream.

Didymo is a type of alga called a diatom that grows as colonies and forms stalks as well as coats rocks and plants.

The tan-colored colonies can resemble blobs of cotton or wet toilet paper that may look slimy – hence the name “rock snot” – but are not; instead, the stalks form a fibrous weave that feels like wet wool.

Didymo is a threat to stream ecosystems because it can form mats up to 8 inches thick that span from bank to bank, blocking light and smothering oxygen and habitat for species like invertebrates and trout.

Didymo, scientifically known as Didymosphenia geminata, prefers clean, cold, low-nutrient systems. It recently has become a nuisance in streams in New Zealand, the U.S. Rockies and Maryland to New Hampshire.

How worried should we be about didymo in Pine Creek?

“The best experience we can learn from is from other rivers,” said Susquehanna River Basin biologist Matt Shank. “The Upper Delaware and the Gunpowder River in Maryland have seen episodic nuisance blooms. It is really tough to predict if didymo will take off; flows and water chemistry are different on those rivers than in Pine Creek.”

Didymo was found last June in Pine Creek near Waterville.

In November, Shank and others noted rocks coated with didymo on the West Branch of Pine Creek in Galeton. They identified didymo cells (though not visibly obvious growth) on Pine Creek 1 mile below Galeton.

Shank emphasized the importance of cleaning and drying boating and fishing gear to prevent the spread of didymo to other tributaries.

“While the mainstem of Pine Creek is considered impacted, we want to keep it out of Cedar Run, Little Pine, and other exceptional value and high quality tributaries,” he said.

“We may not be able to eliminate didymo from an infected waterway, but there are easy steps we can take to slow its spread and to prevent it from spreading to other waters,” said state Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway.

“Didymo cells can easily be carried downstream and can be picked up by any items which come in contact with the infected water, including fishing tackle, waders, and boats and trailers,” he added. “We urge anglers and boaters to clean your gear before leaving a water body and entering another one.”

Prevent the spread of didymo as well as other organisms, pathogens and invasive species.

Restrict your use to one location or if you travel to other locations, be sure to take the following precautions:

  • CHECK: Before leaving a site, remove all visible clumps of algae, mud, plants, fish and animals and eliminate water from all equipment. Leave them at the site. If you find any later, treat and put in trash. Never flush.

Clean Non-absorbent items with detergent or hot-soak one minute in water above 140-degrees Fahrenheit or for at least 20 minutes in hot water kept above 113 degrees. Absorbent items require longer soaking times – at least 40 minutes in hot water kept above 113 degrees.

  • Dry: Drying will kill didymo and many other invasives, but moist didymo can survive for months so items must be completely dry to the touch, inside and out and left to dry for at least another 48 hours before use. Freezing any item until solid will also kill didymo.

For more details on the free March 18 meeting, see the Outdoor Briefs column on Page F-4.

Maloney is a watershed specialist with the Tioga County Conservation District. She may reached at 570-724-1801, ext. 113.