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Aquatic Nuisance Found In Berkshire County River

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State environmental officials in Massachusetts are warning residents about the discovery of an aquatic nuisance recently found in the Berkshires for the first time.

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife confirmed the presence of didymo in the Green River in the Berkshire County communities of Alford and Egremont.

Didymo, commonly known as “rock snot” due to its appearance, is a type of freshwater algae that occurs in North America and can be a nuisance to swimmers, fishermen, and boaters, and during blooms could have a temporary impact on aquatic ecosystems. The organism can appear white, grey, or brown, and can have a texture some describe as similar to wet wool or cotton balls.

Andrew Madden, Division Manager of the Western District of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said that the discovery of didymo in the Green River is the first time the algae has been found in the state, but the wider distribution of the organism in Massachusetts is relatively unknown.

"We don't know what it's natural distribution is or was, we don't know how it will react in different environments in different rivers, and so we want to make sure it doesn't get spread place to place,
 said Madden.

Didymo has been detected in neighboring states including Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Connecticut. The algae has been discovered in Pennsylvania, Virginia, as well as several western states.

State officials are informing Massachusetts residents of the presence in Berkshire County, and are encouraging those who enter waterways to take precautions to prevent the spread of the algae.

"We're recommending that people are thorough with cleaning their equipment and gear," said Madden. "Essentially hot, soapy water will solve most of the problem."

Signs will be posted to inform the public along the Green River on how to clean gear and equipment.

John Hickey, president of the Lakes and Ponds Association of Western Massachusetts, said that he hopes efforts taken to control the spread of didymo are similar to the actions taken to control zebra mussels, an invasive species that can affect aquatic wildlife and damage structures.

"We're very fortunate in a certain sense in being able to contain the zebra mussel outbreak to just Laurel Lake so far, but we are very concerned about it spreading to others, and we have the same concern for the didymo," said Hickey.

Andrew Madden said that the state will begin monitoring bodies of water throughout the state for didymo.

There is no known method of eliminating didymo from a waterway or controlling a bloom. It’s also unknown if the species was always present or was introduced.

For more information: http://www.mass.gov/dcr/watersupply/lakepond/downloads/DidymoBrochure.pdf

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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