Freshwater Mussels Are Dying And No One Knows Why

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TALKING FRESHWATER MUSSELS. And the fact that they're dying off. Where should we start so I actually want to take you to South West Virginia right near the border with Tennessee? Mattie put on your waiters done okay because we're about to get into the waters of the clinch river so the clinch river flows at the feet of the southern Appalachian Mountains. The water is cold very clear and that is good news because freshwater mussels live on the bottom of rivers. They're kind of like sorta like the less edible version of their saltwater cousin they don't get the same love but they bury themselves in the sediment and among the rocks on the bottoms of rivers and I went out to find some of these muscles with Jordan Richard a biologist with the US fish and wildlife service who is obsessed with freshwater mussels and it did not take him long waiting out into the water for him to find what he did not want to see how long this is a matter of like. How long does it take until we see something that died very recently won? Shell was just laying there even say it's not buried. That's its footing Jordan. There he'd reached into the water and pulled out that muscle a pheasant shell. That's the species but should be buried in food. Not that's dead and this show is about the size of his palm. It's this beautiful. Golden Brown color But the Muslim side is usually a smooth. Pink is turning Greyish Brown and frayed around Sedgwick's Basically it's rotting in place. I saw that one took a few steps out and by the time I stopped right there at like five expecting not a good way which I'm pretty I'm pretty used to like coming out of your thing and I'm GonNa see just getting completely like bombed with the muscles but it's obsolete lousy you out there finding like dead muscle after dead muscle. Yeah I mean they were everywhere and you heard Jordan say but this is really not what he was expecting. It was not the time of year that they typically see a bunch of mortality You know he was just being nice and taking a reporter but biologists have been going at different sections of the clinch river since it was first noted in two thousand sixteen and in just one section of that river the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the number of pheasant shell muscles that have died is in the hundreds of thousands knee. It sounded like I don't know just hearing his voice on the tape that he was super upset. Yeah I mean he was on the verge of tears when we were talking and then he tried to apologize about later. Which I didn't think was obviously not necessary but it was upset because he's so frustrated by what's happening they don't know what's causing this and there's this kind of feeling of helplessness. This guy is so passionate about freshwater ego systems. It's his entire life. I mean he actually said that he had three fish tanks house one by his bed one by the foot of his bed and one in the living room so yeah very understanding wife. Okay but let's talk a little bit more about why people are trying so hard to save these muscles. They play a really important role in freshwater ecosystems. Right totally so. They don't often get the attention they deserve. Here's someone who knows that all too well. People don't tend to get quite as excited about things that lack burns. Unfortunately that was emily blevins. She's a conservation biologist with Versi Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Which you know besides having a really cool name is a nonprofit that focuses on some of the world's more under loved Chrisny. I'LL SAY AT ONCE. I'LL SAY THOUSAND TIMES INVERTEBRATES. Don't get enough credit. I know I mean I think as vertebrates are a little biased but these muscles do deserve a ton of credit. There are filter feeders so that means that they filter water through them. While they're down they're just chilling on River Bottoms. There's research that shown they can remove pharmaceuticals from the water and pesticides and flame retardants and they remove E. coli from the water. They're like our little water filters exactly so a few of the biologists. I talked to really did say you can think of them. As nature's equivalent to a BRITTA filter cleaning up the water that we drink implant but they all sorts of cool stuff like reducing the size and impacts of dead zones. Those big nasty you know fishing life killing phenomena to keep occurring in the Gulf. They do that by filtering out. Sediment and agricultural runoff They sequester carbon phosphorus heavy metals in their shells. They reduce fecal bacteria from water. And you know like what's not to love about Madonna got it thank God. A single freshwater. Mussel can filter more than fifteen gallons of water in a day and besides that they provide habitat to tons of other species. One biologist described them as like the fresh water equivalent to a coral reef. So these muscles are clearly out here doing a lot of work. We don't have any idea what's causing these die-offs so no I mean we have some hunches but you know Jordan. The biologists set it could be a million different things that is causing this There's a bunch of folks working on this from around. The country. University was constant is doing a lot of work and they've recently identified a virus and bacteria that they say are statistically associated with the dial keywords being you know statistically associated so not enough to say hey dingaling we found it but they're highly suspicious of a pathogenic cause and that is where their research is focused right now. What about the stuff like we? Humans are doing on climate. Change for example. Does that seem to be a contributor at all? Well I mean there's no doubt. The climate change is stressing river ecosystems as it is just about every system everywhere but it does not seem to be the driver of what's going on here as far as scientists can tell But I think it's important to note that there are other human components it sort of brought us to this place as I mentioned freshwater mussels or already on the brink and that is because of human activity fun fact before the Aplastic Freshwater Mussels were actually collected in cultivated by the millions to satisfy a commercial demand for buttons. Their shells were pearly white inside right. Thanks for Buttons Fresh Harman's But even more damaging was just you know the general destruction that was brought along by Human Development. So there was pollution from coal mining in the southern Appalachia Rivers dammed for power streams diverted for agriculture wetlands pay for housing and all of those things have brought freshwater mussels to the point where a mysterious die off can happen and it becomes so crucial to find out why fast because there's so little wiggle room left in the system all right eight. Your bumming me out. What's the plan? So there is a contingency plan all right and there always needs to be a contingency plan But like most contingency plans. It's one that nobody wants to use in this case it's a hatchery or nursery more or less for freshwater mussels one of our living screams So pheasant shells in here. That's the one that really dial so basically this place is like a last line of defense for some of these species they're going to breed them in captivity so at least they're not totally gone from planet earth. Exactly so tim and the other. Biologists are reproducing muscles. Here keeping them safe until they're mature enough to be brought back into the wild they're basically stock and when the recent die off started on the clinch river. They brought a bunch of muscles here from part of the river that wasn't affected And those muscles could not just be used as stock but they could also use a baseline a healthy sample to us as they search for the die-offs 'cause Worst case scenario they have to take some of those muscles and try to repopulate parts of the Clinch River. Where the muscles of Dino are going to stand idly by watching the way we're GonNa do the best we can to help them produce progeny. So of the species isn't going for Jordan Richard. The biologist remitted beginning also is helping with this effort and he says it you know he knows. That muscles aren't as photogenic as a rhinoceros or polar bears but freshwater mussels are crucial to the health of other species. So if they go. We're going to have a lot of problems is not sexy to care about the foundation of Your House and you could renovate your kitchen but he says if that foundation is crumbling and you ignore it by the time you notice a problem because you fall through the floor. It's too late to do anything about it. And then everything else including your fancy. New Kitchen is going to fall through to

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