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Clinch-Powell Clean Rivers Initiative

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The Nature Conservancy in Virginia

The Clinch River watershed of southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee harbors 19 rare fish species and some 40 varieties of freshwater mussels – one of the most diverse assemblages of aquatic species on Earth. All photos © Daniel White/TNC

A 2007 symposium, 'Coal Mining and the Aquatic Environment,' helped spawn the Clinch-Powell Clean Rivers Initiative, a broad coalition working to address a variety of threats to water quality and river health.

An important goal for the Clinch-Powell initiative is assembling reliable data about freshwater mussel populations and getting that information incorporated into decision-making processes such as Clean Water Act enforcement.

Jess Jones (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and Brad Kreps (director of the Conservancy's Clinch Valley Program) observe researchers at work during ‘Musselrama,’ an intensive survey of freshwater mussels at Cleveland Island Preserve.

Joe Ferraro from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries searches for mussels within a sampling grid marked by the submerged yellow frame.

A snorkeler hands off each find to a partner who records the species and measurements before returning the mussel to the river.

‘This is one of the best places anywhere for this species,’ says Jess Jones, holding a pair of endangered shiny pigtoes. ‘Cleveland Island is one of its last strongholds.’

This tagged oyster mussel is part of an experimental restoration project at Cleveland Island Preserve, where researchers are evaluating different methods for augmenting mussel populations.

‘This is what success will have to look like if we’re going to save these species and one of North America’s most remarkable rivers,’ says Brad Kreps. ‘It’s going to take a huge human effort.’ All Photos © Daniel White/TNC

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