Worrisome snail spreading to two more Horry subdivisions
The snails are spreading.
Officials from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources say the invasive island apple snail - which can pose human health risks and cause ecological damage - has probably slithered to two new subdivisions in Horry County.
The snail, most easily recognized by the gummy, pink pods of eggs it lays on the banks of ponds, was first identified last month in the Laurel Woods subdivision and the Heron Point Golf Club off S.C. 707. The DNR thinks someone may have dumped an aquarium in a Laurel Woods pond. Now residents in the Brynfield Park and Glenmere subdivisions at S.C. 707 and S.C. 544 respectively also have spotted the snail, said Chris Page, the program manager of the DNR's aquatic nuisance species program.
The snail, indigenous to South America, feeds off native vegetation and could pose a threat to native snail species. It also carries a parasite that can cause meningitis and be transferred to people if the snail is handled without gloves. No cases have been reported in the U.S., but there have been cases in other countries.
Page said DNR officials will be visiting the subdivisions today to positively identify the snails and treat the infested ponds with copper sulfate, a federally approved pesticide often used to kill algae.
The problem may be bigger than DNR officials anticipated. The DNR was trying to eradicate the snails before they migrated to larger water bodies, like the Waccamaw River, but some residents report having seen the snails for years. "We assumed they were insect eggs," said Anthony Kell, who lives in the Glenmere subdivision and has noticed the eggs for the past three years. "There's thousands. They are all over."
David Knott, a marine biologist with the DNR, said the apple snails are popular in the commercial pet industry. State law theoretically bans the transportation of the snails without a DNR permit, but the rule's ambiguity means it has not really been enforced, Knott said. The DNR has never issued a permit for apple snails, he said. "Once they are here, it's very difficult to get rid of them," Knott said of invasive species. "We have invasive species in South Carolina that have been here for so long, people think of them as native."
Page said many of the ponds in the subdivisions have already been treated for algae, which could slow down the spread of the snails. He also said natural predators could help keep the snails at bay. "There's some fat raccoons that are having a big time with these snails," he said.
Near the Heron Point Golf Club, Ben and Joyce Mann said they have noticed the snails in a pond behind their home. Joyce Mann said she didn't pay much attention to them at first, but that has changed. "We're both pretty worried about the snails," she said. "It's a good-looking lake, and we see a variety of waterfowl and fish, and we want it to stay healthy."