Why are mussels important?
Mussels are filter feeders, an adult freshwater mussel can filter between 10-20 gallons of water a day! They are very efficient at filtering sediments, bacteria and nutrients from the water column. They are known to consume bacteria like E. coli. Not only that, they are canaries in the coalmine, if there is too much pollution like heavy metals and other toxics, mussels will die, they are tremendous bioindicators. By removing suspended sediment from the water column, musselshelp improve water clarity which enhances conditions for submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) which in turn provides habitat for a myriad of other invertebrates, and fishes. Even the dead mussels are very beneficial, their shells provide tiny habitats for other bottom dwelling invertebrates, fish and a substrate for algae and aquatic vegetation. By restoring mussel populations, we are helping improve water quality and enhance the aquatic ecosystems of the Anacostia River.
How mussels are being threatened?
About 300 species of freshwater mussels have been identified in the United States with the highest species diversity found in the Southeast region of the country. A total of 16 species have been identified in the state of Maryland, at least 8 of those species are found in the Anacostia River (both in Maryland and DC) according to an assessment done by the Anacostia Watershed Society and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Freshwater mussels are actually one of the most imperiled groups of animals in North America with 70% of their species listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered. Sadly, a total of 37 species are now considered extinct according to scientists. Why? The dramatic decline is due to severe habitat destruction, water pollution, climate change, damming, the introduction of invasive species, a decline in the populations of their host fishes and over exploitation of water resources (i.e. for agriculture and other uses).
AWS Accomplishments in Mussel Restoration
We are currently propagating freshwater mussels in the Anacostia River. As of 2019 we are working with over 9,000mussels of 3 different native species: Eastern lampmussel, Eastern pondmussel, and Alewife floater. The last two species are listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in both Maryland and DC. At 10 gallons a day for example, they would filter about 50 olympic size swimming pools in a year! Our goal is to propagate and introduce thesemussels into the river so that more mussels filter more water therefore improving the water clarity and the aquatic ecosystems.
How Can you Help?
Our mussel restoration program can always use your financial support (click here to donate). You also can join our special team of mussel volunteers.
Since the activities related to this project don't normally require large groups of people, we are asking people to be put in wait list and then we will invite people in the wait list to mussel monitoring and basket maintenance days. Volunteering may involve walking in mud/water (in both hot or cold temperatures) with boots or waders, lifting weight (20-30 lbs), and other minor physical activities outdoors.
Interested in engaging your students in mussel restoration? Visit our Mussel Power program page to learn more.