Underwater museum threatened by invasive species

Published: Oct. 7, 2018 at 10:42 AM EDT
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An underwater historic preserve in Lake Champlain is being threatened by an invasive species.

The preserve, maintained by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, is made up of nine Vermont vessels and one New York vessel.

"They tend to all have pretty interesting stories attached to them," said the museum's Chris Sabick.

Divers can explore tug boats and canal boats like the General Butler. Sabick says the captain was transporting a marble shipment. His family was on board, ready to go Christmas shopping. They lost their steering and jumped onto the breakwater before the canal boat sank.

"A gentleman named James Wakefield actually had to row out in this storm in a small boat with his son to collect these people from the breakwater and get them to shore before they froze to death," Sabick said.

Someday, the stories may be all that's left of these ships, thanks to the invasive species, zebra mussels.

"Literally hundreds of thousands of these mussels can cause stress and strain on these water-logged wooden wrecks," Sabick said.

Steve Smith is a marine life expert at the ECHO Center for Lake Champlain. He said the colonies can be two to three inches thick.

"The zebra mussels, the substance that they use to adhere to materials can degrade that material but then also the zebras mussel colony supports bacteria that further degrade iron," Smith said.

It makes appreciating this public resource, all the more important.

The Maritime Museum has remote operated vehicle vehicles. The machines can feed video back to the surface, allowing non-divers to check out the shipwrecks.