Growing Healthy Mussels

Restoring imperiled river life benefits nature and communities.

By Daniel White on February 28, 2017

Freshwater mussels filter the rivers in which they live. Their health signals the state of the waters on which they and local communities depend.

The Clinch and Powell rivers of southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee provide some of the world’s most important habitat for these beneficial creatures. The Nature Conservancy and our partners are working to curb recent mussel declines in this area.

Partners in the Powell

Last October, biology students from Lincoln Memorial University helped launch a new restoration effort, releasing juvenile mussels in the Powell River. Of the four types of mussels placed in the river shoals, three are listed federally as endangered species: oyster mussel, snuffbox and Cumberland combshell.

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Lincoln Memorial University biology students help place hatchery-raised juvenile mussels into the Powell River. Photo © Don Oakley/Well Being Conference Center

Engaging Kids and Communities

That same month, rising seniors and 4th-graders from local schools participated in a mussel release in St. Paul, Virginia. Clad in new Mighty Mussel Man t-shirts, about 60 students waded into the Clinch River for a hands-on introduction to restoration.

The Conservancy hosted this educational event with our partners from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

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In St. Paul, Virginia, local students helped release juvenile mussels into the Clinch River. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Brad Kreps)

Cleveland Rocks

In 2017, we anticipate releasing another 4,000 hatchery-raised mussels. For the foreseeable future, our partnerships will target the two most promising river sections for mussel recovery.

At the Powell site and in shoals at our Cleveland Island Preserve in the Clinch, mussels are not only surviving, but also successfully reproducing.

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Can you find the mussel? Camouflaged within a rocky shoal, this female mussel uses its fleshy mantle as a lure to draw in a host fish to help disperse mussel larvae. Photo © Tennessee Valley Authority

Hatching Success

Restoration efforts are limited by the number of mussels that can be raised at Virginia Tech and a state hatchery near Marion. Long-term success will hinge on the state’s timely expansion of its hatchery facilities.

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Successful mussel recovery will hinge on expanding the state hatchery near Marion, Virginia. Photos © The Nature Conservancy (Daniel White)

Learn More about the Clinch Valley

Categories: Rivers and Bays, Restoration, Wildlife

Daniel White is a senior conservation writer for the Conservancy based in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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