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All lakes in 2 of B.C.’s most well-known national parks closed for at least a year

Parks Canada says its unprecedented decision to shut down public access to all lakes in two of B.C.’s most well-known national parks is necessary to prevent a potential disaster.

The organization said it has extended its closure of all waterbodies in Kootenay and Yoho National Parks until at least March 2025.

The drastic move is being made to protect fish species vulnerable to whirling disease.

The disease has the potential to decimate fish populations and has a mortality rate of up to 90 per cent.

According to the Canadian government, whirling disease is an infectious disease of finfish. It is caused by Myxobolus cerebralis, a protozoan in the Class Myxosporea.

“Whirling disease is not spread directly between finfish,” the government states. “The parasite is spread through contact between finfish and a freshwater worm (Tubifex tubifex).”

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Officials know this news may disappoint some but it is a necessary move.

“We understand that this might be disappointing to some of our visitors but it is Parks Canada’s mandate to protect the ecological integrity of our ecosystem,” Marie Veillard, the Parks Canada Invasive Species Program manager.

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s Johnson Lake drained in effort to eliminate parasite'

Alberta’s Johnson Lake drained in effort to eliminate parasite

The invasive parasite has already been detected in six areas of Yoho National Park.

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Veillard said there are tell-tale signs of infection including a bent spine, a blackened tail and they can swim in a whirling pattern.

The Elk River Alliance has been sounding the alarm across the region, asking water users to diligently clean, drain and dry their equipment and stay in one location.

Evgeni Matveev, outreach coordinator for the Elk River Alliance, told Global News that one of the best ways to slow down the spread of whirling disease is to allow the fish time to build up a natural resistance.

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“So, whirling disease can spread through various vectors and spread, by transfer of fish or fish movement, or bird species,” he said.

“But one of the biggest ways that it spreads is through the transfer of wet or dirty equipment.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta fish farmer suing province over impacts of ‘failing to control’ whirling disease'

Alberta fish farmer suing province over impacts of ‘failing to control’ whirling disease

The Elk River borders the Crow’s Nest watershed, where whirling disease has been detected.

“So as far as we know, the Elk River watershed doesn’t have it quite yet,” Matveev said.

“So we’ve been really trying to push this, clean and dry, like B.C. and Canada-wide kind of strategy.”

Matveev said one of the biggest ways that it spreads is through the transfer of water and dirty equipment.

“There’s no cure of whirling disease,” he said.

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“Once it’s in the watershed, it’s in the watershed.”

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