Fewer feathers at East Marsh

Eradicating an invasive species from a BC wetland

(un)WANTED: Parrot’s feather (myriophyllum aquaticum). ©DUC

If DUC staff are successful, there will be fewer feathers at the Serpentine Wildlife Management Area by the end of the year. “Our goal is complete eradication,” says conservation specialist, Matt Christensen. This bold (and surprising) statement is good news for nature-lovers, insects, native fish species, wildlife and…waterfowl.

Because the feathers DUC plans to eradicate from this wildlife management area don’t belong in Surrey, BC. Rather, they’re at home along the Amazon River, in South America.

Parrot’s feather (myriophyllum aquaticum) is an invasive aquatic plant native, sometimes found in aquariums and at garden centres. It was discovered in Serpentine’s East Marsh in 2014, and threatened to overrun the marsh completely.

Parrot's feather covers open water at East Marsh
How did an aquatic plant, native to South America, wind up in a BC wetland? One theory is that the plant was introduced into the East Marsh by a pet owner who emptied their aquarium (containing parrot’s feather) into the wetland. ©DUC

“It had created a dense mat across the surface of the water,” says Christensen. It was so thick in places, “it looked like you could walk on it.” The mat of vegetation Christensen describes seeing at East Marsh has a number of side-effects.

When parrot’s feather spreads across a body of water, it blocks sunlight from penetrating the water’s surface. This prevents native aquatic plants from growing, and in turn, reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in a wetland.

It’s a process that also chokes out essential habitat for waterfowl.

“Many waterfowl wouldn’t have anywhere else to go if this habitat was no longer there,” says Christensen. “They’d likely end up on farmers’ fields, where they’d impact crops,” he adds.

Rather than allow the wetland to be overrun by this aggressive plant, DUC began a multi-year restoration project that continues this summer.

“The first year we recognized parrot’s feather in the marsh, we initiated a drawdown,” says Christensen.

Conservation specialists conduct drawdowns by opening water control structures that keep water on the marsh, and allowing the wetland to drain. While this process benefits native plants, it can kill invasive species, like parrot’s feather. “It’s really reduced the presence of the plant at the wetland.”

A drawdown at East Marsh.
A drawdown at East Marsh. ©DUC

Earlier this year, the marsh was drained again. Christensen plans to take advantage of the mostly dry conditions using a tool well known to green-thumbs.

“Once the marsh has drained, I’ll take a roll of burlap in and cover spots that continue to retain moisture.” The biodegradable material will prevent sunlight from hitting any surviving parrot’s feather and hopefully, kill it. “Our plan is to eradicate this plant,” says Christensen.

And so, when waterfowl are searching for a “pit-stop” where they can fuel-up during their migration journey, they’ll continue to flock to East Marsh and the Serpentine Wildlife Management Area.

Thanks to DUC, there they’ll find good habitat…and birds of a feather.

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