By Brynn Walling, USFWS
Why is it important to care about mussel species? I am so glad you asked!
Along with the 20th century came a decline in mussels. Sadly, we lost three species altogether. Twenty-four other species are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.
One of the species we're working to protect is the oyster mussel, which was listed as endangered in 1997. We're enlisting the help of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center near Marion, Va. as well as Virginia Tech’s Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center in Blacksburg, Va.
Endangered freshwater mussels bound for the Powell River. (Photo: Gary Peeples/USFWS)
By working together, we remove mussels from damaged waters and raise them in safer environments until they are healthy enough to survive on their own.
Freshwater mussels are one of few animals that can increase water quality by filtering approximately 10 gallons of water a day through their gills. The food particles that they filter out provide food for other animals. Unfortunately, this filtering ability is what also makes the mussels vulnerable.
Mussels assimilate toxins and contaminants in their bodies that protect the water they filter, but many contaminants, like ammonia and salt, cause mortality to freshwater mussels.
In order to restore mussels, we are focusing on preserving existing populations, protecting mussel habitat, re-establishing mussels in their historical range, monitoring their growth, and continuing to research and better understand their needs.
School children learn about the importance of mussels. (Photo: USFWS)
Currently, oyster mussels are found in only three rivers: Clinch, Powell and Nolichucky. We've released about 20,000 mussels in these waterways so far in an attempt to strengthen existing populations. Landowners are helping with conservation, too.
By keeping livestock out of streams, they can help prevent pollution and erosion. Some are also planting more trees and vegetation along riverbanks.
These efforts to preserve mussels could not be done without the help of many partners including The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Tech, landowners, and many others.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries captured our largest ever release on camera.
For more information on this story and other stories celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, check out: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/ESA40/index.html
Brynn Walling is an Administrative Support Clerk with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service