A fresh perspective

— Loc­al vo­lun­teers wade through Ta­cony Creek on a hunt for fresh­wa­ter mus­sels.

Aliyah Pat­ter­son (right), 16, and Yesenia Valle (left) , 15, look through a buck­et with a clear bot­tom to try and spot fresh­wa­ter mussles at the creek be­hind Friends Hos­pit­al, Thursday, Au­gust 30, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


Some people went hunt­ing for mus­sels in the Lower North­east late last month, but they wer­en’t search­ing for the kind you eat with either red sauce or white. Those are mar­ine mus­sels.

No, vo­lun­teers with the Takoony/Ta­cony-Frank­ford Wa­ter­shed Part­ner­ship were wad­ing through Ta­cony Creek look­ing for fresh­wa­ter mus­sels.

They are ed­ible, per­haps, but not very big and more to muskrats’ tastes than to those of hu­mans.

The TTF along with an­oth­er non-profit group, the Part­ner­ship for the Delaware Es­tu­ary, wer­en’t look­ing to set the table with the mus­sels they sought in the creek be­hind Friends Hos­pit­al on Aug. 30. The hunt was more like a census, and vo­lun­teers ac­tu­ally were look­ing for places where there are no mus­sels.

“It’s im­port­ant to find the mus­sels be­cause they clean the wa­ter for us,” said Alix Howard, who works for TTF, “and it’s im­port­ant to find where they aren’t … so we know where to plant more mus­sels.”

Fresh­wa­ter mus­sels don’t just live in fresh wa­ter, they make wa­ter fresh­er.

Each mus­sel takes in gal­lons of wa­ter every day, takes susten­ance from what it finds in that wa­ter and pushes the cleaned wa­ter back in­to a stream, creek or river.

Lack of mus­sels means a wa­ter­way is not get­ting a nat­ur­al, thor­ough cleans­ing.

“They tend to like shal­low wa­ter and still wa­ter,” said TTF edu­ca­tion co­ordin­at­or Abby Grosslein, who was ready for deep wa­ter with her waist-high waders. “And they’re among rocks. They look like rocks.”

Add that they’re about as big as house keys, and are black, grey or brown, and it’s easy to un­der­stand why they’re hard to spot.

Sev­er­al vo­lun­teers, some wear­ing waders, looked along the creek bed. They spot­ted some very small fish and some very large tad­poles, but no mus­sels.

“I saw a big tad­pole and a lot of trash,” said Aliyah Pat­ter­son, 16, after she and fel­low Cent­ral High stu­dent Yesenia Valle, 15, searched the creek by peer­ing un­der wa­ter with a clear-bot­tomed buck­et.

Grosslein par­ti­cip­ated in an­oth­er sur­vey earli­er Aug. 30 where the only evid­ence of mus­sels was one old shell. That might have been a hint, at least, that mus­sels had been present nearby. However, it turned out that the shell was not a fresh­wa­ter mus­sel’s and might have been left be­hind by pic­nick­ers.

Fish in a wa­ter­way might also in­dic­ate mus­sels might live there, be­cause fresh­wa­ter mus­sels are para­sit­ic when they’re young and tiny.

They float in the wa­ter, at­tach them­selves to the gills of fish for a few weeks and then fall off, said Priscilla Cole, a data and in­form­a­tion spe­cial­ist for the Part­ner­ship for the Delaware Es­tu­ary. That’s when they bur­row in­to sand.

“They can live for more than a hun­dred years,” she said. “They have tre­mend­ous fil­ter­ing ca­pa­city.

That’s why the part­ner­ship is try­ing to find out where mus­sel beds should be star­ted.

The part­ner­ship can take some mus­sels from beds in the Delaware and place them else­where in the wa­ter­shed, Cole said.

Howard said the on­go­ing sur­vey of the fresh­wa­ter mus­sel pop­u­la­tion in the Delaware and the wa­ter­ways that feed it is the first in many dec­ades.

To vo­lun­teer for fu­ture fresh­wa­ter mus­sel sur­veys, call 1-302-655-4990. ••


You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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