A fresh perspective
— Local volunteers wade through Tacony Creek on a hunt for freshwater mussels.
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. ••