West Virginia’s vital mussel population at risk according to report

West Virginia

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A recent report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has declared that the numbers of freshwater mussels in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has dropped drastically.

This region, which includes West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, is filled with mussels that play a vital part in the ecosystem, filtering the water and preventing pollutants from flowing downstream.

Brook Floater (Alasmidonta varicosa) collected by researchers from the Cacapon River, Morgan County, WV (Credit Matthew Patterson/USFWS)

“Freshwater mussels really are the unsung heroes of our rivers and streams. But as their populations plummet, I’m afraid we could lose some mussel species before we fully understand their benefits,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Senior Scientist Joseph Wood.

The 11 species of mussels that live in West Virginia not only filter the state’s water, they also act as habitats for local aquatic wildlife.

These mussels are facing extinction due to pollution, dams, climate change, viruses and loss of habitat. The population drop has been estimated to be around 90% since the 1600s.

“Conservation of our remaining mussel resources has increasingly become an important goal for the state,” said West Virginia Division of Natural Resources mussel biologist Kevin Eliason. “In the coming years we are excited to also begin active propagation efforts at a planned mussel hatchery facility that will allow reintroduction and restoration of mussel populations throughout West Virginia.”

The press release also said that insufficient funding, research and a lack of a restoration plan have slowed down progress. Federal funding from the Chesapeake WILD Act have been of some aid, but more funding and dedication is required in order to combat the destruction of West Virginia’s mussel population.

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