This blog comes from the team of biologists and ecologists at Algonquin Provincial Park.
Algonquin is a bastion of headwaters.
Most of our lakes are fed by cold, clean water welling up from the ground. That water flows out of the park and feeds countless lakes and streams in southern Ontario.
One of the goals in establishing the park boundaries was to protect those headwaters…because if the headwaters are compromised, so is everything downstream.
That strategy has worked remarkably well in the park’s 125-year history.
Unfortunately, last year we made a devastating discovery.
A new invasive species in the park
Last year, we found the highly invasive and destructive spiny water flea in three large, beautiful Algonquin lakes.
It broke our hearts.
It’s the kind of discovery that takes us back and makes us wonder what else we could have done to prevent this from happening. We will wonder for the rest of our lives.
This kind of discovery cannot be undone, cannot be fixed. But you can prevent this from happening in other places.
All of us can play a role in that prevention.
For those of you who, like us, love the park, we need your help.
What is the spiny water flea?
Photo: brendanboyd, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The spiny water flea is a zooplankton native to Eurasia.
It is long enough to detect with the naked eye and is approximately 1.5 cm long.
Half that length is its spiny protrusion that deters predation by young fish.
You can also identify them by their large black eye or by the groups they form with other spiny water fleas.
The lumps will appear as clear or slightly greenish gelatinous masses.
Fleas, individual or a lot, It can cling to fishing lines, anchor ropes, or the bottom of boats and canoes.
Cold water ecosystems
Because Algonquin is primarily fed by groundwater, many of its lakes are deep and cold. Those are the exact conditions in which species like lake trout and brook trout thrive, two fish that attract anglers from around the world.
Cold water ecosystems are increasingly rare in Ontario, in part because they are especially fragile.
Brook trout. Photo by and (C)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man), CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
Its cold waters mean that it does not have the same biodiversity as warmer waters. And they are more susceptible to other disturbances, such as climate change, overexploitation, and invasive species.
Impact of the spiny water flea
Spiny Waterflea has been shown to reduce the abundance and size of top predators.
Disturbing the population of top predators in an ecosystem destabilizes the entire ecosystem. Brook and Lake Trout are the main carnivores in their ecosystems.
Algonquin has the largest concentration of its species in all of southern Ontario.
The spiny water flea could well be another nail in the coffin for these species in light of other pressures, including climate change.
If that is the case, the ecosystems that Algonquin visitors flock to will be forever changed and we will have failed to protect these headwaters as intended when the park was created.
What you can do
Although the water flea has reached one watershed in the park, we can prevent it from spreading to others.
This is what you can do:
- don’t show up with messy equipmentlike a soaked boat trailer, weeds hanging from your canoe, or an anchor rope that’s in the water
- check your equipment. Look for these small clear jelly bags with a long spine. Always clean your equipment with a cloth or towel. Your oars, ropes, fishing line, and rod can harbor spiny water fleas.
- consider not fishing in lakes with spiny water fleas before being transported to other lakes. Lakes with confirmed Spiny Waterflea are located in the northwest area of the park at North Tea, Manitou, and Kioshkokwi lakes. This will reduce your chances of picking them up.
We are doing everything we can to help prevent the spread of Spiny Waterflea.
Staff can hand out wipes at affected Access Point offices and Spiny Waterflea programs at Opeongo Access Point to clean their equipment.
We are educating visitors about preventive measures and there is a boat cleaning station at the Lake Costello picnic area for visitors along the Highway 60 corridor, especially Lake Opeongo.
Staff are now discovering Spiny Waterflea in more lakes.
That’s why we need you to act quickly.