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“The Beachmaker” – Turning Shells into Sand

Posted by Greg on June 4, 2012

Have you seen the billboards and signs posted around lakes, beaches and boat ramps asking boaters to wash their boat to prevent transporting unwanted hitchhikers from lake to lake? Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are one of the hitchhikers they are talking about!

Zebra Mussel Shells (Photo: Greg Books,©Beachmakers LLC 2012)

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources :Zebra mussels and a related species, the Quagga mussel, are small, fingernail-sized animals that attach to solid surfaces in water. Adults are 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches long and have D-shaped shells with alternating yellow and brownish colored stripes. Female zebra mussels can produce 100,000- 500,000 eggs per year. These develop into microscopic, free-living larvae (called veligers) that begin to form shells. After two-three weeks, the microscopic veligers start to settle and attach to any firm surface using “byssal threads”. It is the only freshwater mussel that can attach to objects. They are native to Eastern Europe and Western Russia and were brought over to the Great Lakes in ballast water of freighters… Zebra mussels can cause problems for lakeshore residents and recreationists. Homeowners that take lake water to water lawns can have their intakes clogged. Mussels may attach to motors and possibly clog cooling water areas. Shells can cause cuts and scrapes if they grow large enough on rocks, swim rafts and ladders. Anglers may lose tackle as the shells can cut fishing line. Zebra mussels can also attach to native mussels, killing them.

Zebra mussel shells lining the lake shore (Photo: Greg Books,©Beachmakers LLC 2012)

How does the zebra mussel infestation affect beachgoers, specifically? The massive amounts of razor sharp shells washing up onto a lake’s shore makes walking barefoot on the beach nearly impossible.

Zebra mussel beach on Green Bay, Wisconsin (Photo: Greg Books,©Beachmakers LLC 2012)

What’s being done about this beachy menace? R.J. Elsing of Beachmakers L.L.C. (Pulaski, Wisconsin) has invented a machine that sucks up the piles of shells left behind on shores of lakes infested with zebra mussels and turns them into beach sand. According to an article by, The machine sucks up shells through a large hose, which sends them into a chamber where a ‘tornado effect’ spins the shells around, crushing them as they are tossed against the interior walls, until they disintegrate into sand…Elsing said the machine he was using can crush about 17 cubic yards — or one dump truck load — of zebra mussels per hour, though he’s working on a machine that would process the shells three times faster.

How cool is that?  Good old American ingenuity – turning menacing zebra mussel shells into beach sand!

Want to see how it works? Here’s a Fox 11 News clip.

Here’s to a summer full of  barefoot days at the beach!

One Response to ““The Beachmaker” – Turning Shells into Sand”

  1. Great find! 🙂

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