August 30, 2012

Crater Lake Closed Due To Alien (Invasive) Species

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Alien species have invaded! A national park that is. Park officials have closed down Crater Lake to scuba divers due to invasive species.

The lake goes down to depths of 1,943 feet, and is both the deepest and clearest lake in the U.S. It has become famous to scuba divers for its strange peat moss formations, tunnels and steep crater walls.

Park ecologists have shut down the lake as they try and develop a plan to keep out an invasive species of quagga mussels and spiny water flea. The lake isn't expected to open back up again until 2013.

Before the yellow tape went up, divers just need to hike down 1,000 feet to the lake's surface, take a boat out to Wizard Island, then hike another half hour over volcano debris to get to the lake. But now, divers will likely require a permit and certain protocols to get their chance to swim in the clear waters.

Park superintendent Craig Ackerman said the lake closure will ensure that people attempting a dive are prepared for its special dangers.

“We want to get a handle on this before it becomes commonplace,” Ackerman said in a statement. “The increasing popularity of the lake for scuba diving also increases the opportunities for divers and their gear to carry microscopic 'hitchhikers' into the water. They may be small, but damage that can be caused by aquatic invasives is enormous and oftentimes irreversible."

The park officials are worried that the invasive species, including the hemorrhagic septicemia virus, could reduce native species and damage the lake's ecosystem. These invasive species can cause severe and permanent damage to the habitats, and they rank among the most severe threats to biological diversity and are among the leading causes of extinctions.

“We have seen the devastation to ecosystems and economies caused by the inadvertent introduction of invasive species from Lake Mead to Lake Erie,” the park superintendent said. ”We want to prevent it from happening at Crater Lake rather than deal with the aftermath."

In their native environments, these microscopic bacterial and viral pathogens are controlled by interactions with predators, parasites, pathogens, or competitors. However, once they enter a foreign environment, not having the predators or competitors present makes them nearly impossible to control.

Divers may not be the only ones having to suffer at the hands of the quagga mussels and spiny water flea. Ackerman said officials are considering restrictions, permits and protocols for long distance swimmers on the lake.

He said permits for swimming and diving will be free, but it will be designed to protect this natural wonder.

“It´s the clearest lake in the world,´´ he said in a statement. “Anything that would change that even minutely could permanently affect both purity and clarity.”