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'Rock snot' invades Youghiogheny River

| Monday, June 11, 2012, 9:08 p.m.
Didymo, also known as 'rock snot,' is an invasive algae species that has invaded the Youghiogheny River at Ohio Pyle State Park. Officials said there is no way to rid waters of it, but encourage anglers and boaters to clean their boats and gear when moving from one water source to another so it doesn't spread.

An invasive form of algae known as "rock snot" has aggressively spread to the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle State Park, state officials confirmed on Monday.

The aquatic plant species, also known as didymo, is not dangerous for humans but creates a shag-carpetlike mat that can smother small organisms and disrupt the food chain, said Eric Levis, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

As a result, officials are urging boaters, fishermen and waders to take extra precautions to avoid infecting other areas of the Yough or other rivers and streams.

"We certainly don't want it," Levis said. "It gets in, it's easy to spread. We want people to take precautions because we don't want people to carry it to another waterway."

Officials during the past two months have documented didymo "blooms" in the Yough, the Delaware River in Bucks County and Dyberry Creek in Wayne County. Didymo, formally called didymosphenia geminata, was found in the Delaware River in 2007.

At Ohiopyle, Erik L. Silldorff, an aquatic biologist for the Delaware River Basin Commission, found tufts of the tan-brownish colored plants on June 1. The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia verified his sample.

"There was plenty of didymo on the rocks so I had no trouble finding material to collect, and my sample was filled with nice, healthy, living didymo. So, in terms of a risk of spread, I would say the Youghiogheny is now a potential launching pad," Silldorff said.

The Fish and Boat Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are reminding anglers and boaters that cleaning their gear is the easiest, most effective way to prevent spreading it to other waters. Officials recommend making sure equipment is completely dry before entering new waters, cleaning boats and equipment with hot water, or soaking equipment in hot water and dishwashing detergent.

"We may not be able to eliminate didymo from an infected waterway, but we can do our best to slow its spread," said Bob Morgan, a biologist for the Fish and Boat Commission. "Didymo cells can easily be carried downstream and can be picked up by any items or equipment contacting the infected water."

Levis said state agencies are not sure how it spread to Western Pennsylvania.

"We're not taking steps to try to eliminate it," he said. "Our main goal now is to try and stop this spread."

For more information on how to clean your gear to prevent the spread of didymo, visit http://fishandboat.com/cleanyourgear.htm.<

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