People who have purchased moss balls for aquariums are being asked to destroy them

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
A zebra mussel is seen on a moss ball.

AZTEC — The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is asking New Mexicans who have purchased moss balls for their aquarium to remove the moss balls from the tanks, boil them and then toss them in the garbage.

An invasive mussel known as the zebra mussel has been found on these moss balls. The tiny creature can be hard to see, but in large numbers they can wreak havoc on water systems. 

A press release from the department states any moss ball purchased online or from a store within the last year could have zebra mussels on it, posing a threat to the state's bodies of water and water infrastructure. Moss balls are imported from Ukraine and are popular ornamental plants for aquariums.

More:New Mexico officials say state's handling of COVID-19 saved lives

The department is asking retailers as well as aquarium owners who have purchased moss balls to take the following steps:

  • Place any fish in a separate container with uncontaminated water that is not mixed with the aquarium's water.
  • Remove the moss ball and any aquarium items. Place them in a heat-safe pot and fill the pot with tap water. 
  • Bring the water to a boil and boil the contents for at least one minute
  • Discard the moss ball in the trash. The remainder of the aquarium décor should be allowed to completely dry.
  • The boiled water should be discarded onto grass or dirt.
  • Drain the water from the aquarium onto grass or dirt and replace the filter media, bio bags or other equipment. All the water from the aquarium should be changed. 
  • Rinse the aquarium with water that is at least 140 degrees. Make sure that all sides of the tank are rinsed with the hot water. 
  • Place the aquarium décor and other items back into the tank. Fill with water and return any fish to the aquarium. 
  • Monitor on a monthly basis for the presence of zebra mussels. 

The moss balls should not be flushed and none of the water from the aquarium should be discarded into toilets, sinks, bathtubs, storm drains or any water sources like ponds, lakes or rivers.

Zebra mussels reproduce quickly and can become so dense that they clog water pipes. They also alter aquatic habitats, making them a detriment to fish and wildlife. 

According to a U.S. Geological Survey press release issued earlier this month, zebra mussels have been found in moss balls in pet stores in 21 states.

More:Firefighters brave icy water to save husky

On Feb. 25, an employee at a pet store in Seattle, Washington, filed a report in the Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. The database coordinator, fisheries biologist Wesley Daniel, requested confirming information, including a photograph, which he received a few days later.

This led to a nationwide investigation when he alerted invasive species managers, including the aquatic invasive species coordinator for the state of Washington and the invasive species managers at the USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Daniel also visited a pet store in Gainesville, Florida, where he found a zebra mussel in a moss ball. 

“The issue is that somebody who purchased the moss ball and then disposed of them could end up introducing zebra mussels into an environment where they weren’t present before,” Daniel said in the USGS press release. “We’ve been working with many agencies on boat inspections and gear inspections, but this was not a pathway we’d been aware of until now.” 

More:Family reunited with dog 10 months after he went missing

According to the USGS press release, people who have purchased these moss balls can also destroy them through the following methods:

  • Placing the moss ball into a sealable plastic bag and freezing it for at least 24 hours
  • Submerging it in chlorine bleach, diluted to one cup of bleach per gallon of water, for at least 10 minutes
  • Submerging the moss ball in undiluted white vinegar for at least 20 minutes

The USGS asks people to place the destroyed moss ball in a sealed plastic bag and disposing of it in the trash.

People who have seen what they suspect to be a zebra mussel, can report it at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/SightingReport.aspx.  

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e