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STATE: New guidance about zebra mussels found in aquatic moss balls

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission officials have confirmed that aquatic moss balls contaminated by the invasive zebra mussel have been found and potentially sold in several retail outlets across North Carolina. In response, the Wildlife Commission released an informational video and an updated alert about how to destroy and discard aquatic moss balls and disinfect aquariums and moss ball packaging.

Retailers in North Carolina selling the moss balls have pulled any likely contaminated product from their shelves and have taken steps to ensure the moss balls and packaging are properly decontaminated and discarded. In addition, stores are disinfecting their aquarium systems.

Zebra mussels can quickly take over an environment once they are established in a waterbody. This is extremely concerning for the health of other aquatic wildlife and humans. Zebra mussels can disrupt the food chain, change the chemistry of the water and clog water intake and delivery systems.

“The concern is that if the moss balls and zebra mussels are not destroyed properly, the mussels could end up in our water systems, causing unimaginable and expensive damage to pipes and drinking water, as well as cause negative ecological impacts,” stated Todd Ewing, a fisheries biologist with the Wildlife Commission.

If you have purchased moss balls since Feb. 1, you are urged to destroy them immediately by either:

  • Freezing them in a sealed plastic bag for 2 days.
  • Boiling them at a rapid boil for 5 minutes.

Afterwards, dispose of the moss balls in a sealed plastic bag in the trash. If boiling water was used, you can pour the water down the sink, but never down a storm drain that could enter local waterways.

To disinfect the moss ball packing, add one fourth cup of bleach per gallon of water in a large bucket. Submerge the packaging for two hours then pour the water down the drain and dispose of the packing in a sealed plastic bag in the trash.

Disinfecting tanks and accessories should be done with a bleach solution or potassium chloride, and all carbon and other media should be disinfected like the moss ball packing and thrown away in a sealed plastic bag. Failure to fully disinfect the tank can cause the zebra mussels to overtake aquarium systems.

Earlier this month, officials from the Wildlife Commission, along with wildlife agencies across the country, began warning consumers that contaminated moss balls had been shipped to retailers across the country. Locally, moss balls purchased at a PetSmart in Burlington labeled Marimo Moss Ball Plant Grab & Go and Mini Marimo Moss Balls were confirmed to have zebra mussels inside, but contaminated moss balls may have been sold under many different brand names. It’s believed that the contaminated moss balls were imported overseas to four large distributors in the United States that then shipped the product to pet stores nationwide.

Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have put processes in place to inspect incoming shipments of moss balls, and the Wildlife Commission will continue to work with state and federal agencies to monitor the situation in North Carolina. Visit the agency’s website to learn more about aquatic nuisance species.

About the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission

Due to COVID-19, we encourage the public to visit ncwildlife.org to purchase fishing, trapping and hunting licenses and to renew a vessel registration.