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A Mussel Threat: Vernon filmmaker releases documentary on invasive mussels

by  Kevin Parnell – Kelowna Capital News
posted Apr 16, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Imagine if we all woke up tomorrow and the forests of B.C. had been killed off and turned into a vast desert.

That’s what a Vernon filmmaker says could happen to our lakes and rivers in a heart-beat should the invasive zebra and quagga mussels arrive in B.C. and infest our water ways.

Zebra mussels have been reported to clog a three-foot-diameter pipe in less than three months (U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory [NETL] 2006)

Zebra mussels are a particular challenge for municipal, industrial and agricultural pipelines. 

Brynne Morrice, an actor and filmmaker who splits his time between New York and Vernon, has released a six-minute documentary called Mussel Threat, spotlighting the potential dangers of the invasive mussels on B.C. water systems. The $5,000 project was funded through a kickstarter campaign and released in Kelowna on Wednesday at a kick-off press conference held jointly by Morrice and the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

“These mussels, when they get into a lake or river, they basically turn it into an aquatic desert,” said Morrice via Skype from New York. “If tomorrow we woke up in B.C. and all of our beautiful green, lush forests had turned into deserts, that would be a pretty catastrophic change to our province. You have to think of these mussels like that. They turn the water into aquatic deserts. There is nothing left except these mussels. The communities that have experienced this…there is no going back. We would be facing a new status quo that we would never heal from and B.C. would be a far less wonderful place to live and a far less wonderful place to visit.”

For the past six months, Morrice, 30, travelled to areas of North America that have suffered from an infestation of zebra and quagga mussels. The mussels have been found in Lake Winnipeg, in North Dakota and as close as Nevada, just a day and a half drive to the B.C. border. They can survive outside of water for 10 days or in wet carpet or the bilge area of a boat for up to 30 days.

Morrice says It wouldn’t take much for a boat to pass through the border, into B.C. and zebra and quagga mussels would be infesting a local lake, devastating the ecosystem, eating up the plants, killing off native species and polluting the water with the associated algae blooms.

In fact it’s nearly happened already. In 2012 a boat launched into Shuswap Lake with quagga mussels attached to it. Luckily they were dead and did not infest the lake. Then last March a boat infected by quagga mussels was stopped at a border crossing at Osoyoos, heading for B.C. waters.

“People who really understand, who really get this, are up in arms,” said Morrice. “This is a major issue. This is going to effect the entire province in a profound way. Our communities in B.C. are built on lakes and rivers and this could be devastating if we had an infestation.”

•••

A graduate of WL Seaton High School in Vernon, Brynne Morrice was a typical Okanagan resident growing up. His grandmother had a cabin on Shuswap Lake, one of B.C.’s great vacation lakes. He spent his youth fishing, swimming and boating around the Okanagan.

As an actor and filmmaker, he has spent the past decade trying to break into the film world, spending parts of the year in New York and parts of the year in the Okanagan. During one visit home last year, he read a newspaper article detailing the fight of the Okanagan Basin Water Board against zebra and quagga mussels.

“When I read that newspaper article explaining the frustrations of a group like the Okanagan Basin Water Board, I saw a need for a project like this,” he said of his movie. “After two years of raising alarms there wasn’t any assertive protective measures being taken on our borders to protect us from the mussels. Having grown up in the valley, what we have here is pretty important and I was quite honestly frightened about the possibility and as I looked into it more and more I became even more worried.”

With just 20 bucks in his wallet, Morrice approached the Okanagan Basin Water Board with an idea for a documentary, allowing him to get in touch with experts to interview for the project. He took the idea for the film  to the online community using Kickstarter, the web-based funding source dependent on donations from the public. Within three days he had raised $2,000 and within 30 days had raised $5,000. He then travelled to places in the U.S. who are dealing with the devastating effects of an infestation of the mussels. He saw first-hand what kind of deadly effect they have on lakes and rivers. He talked to people in B.C. who are pushing government to expand its detection policies and increase security at the border with Alberta and at the Canada-US border between B.C. and Washington.

What he came away with was enough information for a much larger feature. But he pared it down to six minutes in the hopes more people would see it and hear the message.

“I hope it reaches the people who haven’t heard about this before and to the people who have heard about this, I hope it gives them a really clear understanding of what we are talking about. That this is just not a minor little change to our environment that no one will notice. This is a catastrophic upheaval in our fresh water that will effect everybody. I can say that with confidence having spent six months researching this. Ultimately I hope the government will really step up and do the maximum. Right now I think they are doing the minimum.”

You can find out much more on zebra and quagga mussels online at www.dontmoveamussel.ca

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