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Saving Our Mussels – An Update

By: Eugenia Jones

Biologists with the U. S. Forest Service and KY Department of Fish and Wildlife returned to McCreary County recently to retrieve silos containing mussels which were placed at various points in the waters of the Marsh Creek watershed earlier this year.  The mussels, encased in silos, were deposited in Marsh Creek as part of a study to determine the cause of the drastic decline in Marsh Creek’s mussel population.

Once deemed as a likely spot for mussel conservation efforts and designated as an Outstanding State Resource Water, Marsh Creek has become  the subject of a multi-agency effort to determine the ecological conditions of the Creek and to determine what has caused the reduction in mussels.

Now, two years into the study, scientists are hopeful their work will lead to answers that will help stop and reverse the decline of freshwater mussels and improve the water quality of Marsh Creek.  In addition to allowing researchers to monitor the health and survival of the tiny mollusks through the placement of mussel silos with live mussels at selected sites, researchers have regularly monitored Marsh Creek for water quality.

The latest visit found twenty-two of the original sixty-nine mussels still alive.  However, four of the silos containing mussels either could not be found or had been pulled to shore and left out of the water resulting in the death of the enclosed mussels.

Researchers will conduct tissue analysis on the mussels with the results pinpointing anything out of the norm occurring in the water and affecting the creatures.  The tests will reveal the amounts of metals, pesticides, herbicides, and other substances that have run off the landscape and into the mussel’s Marsh Creek habitat.  The value of the results, to human residents in the area as well as all aquatic species, is significant.  Preliminary results are expected no later than spring.  Results of the study will hopefully determine a successful course of action.

Although not confirmed, it is suspected that the upstream areas of Marsh Creek are problematic for aquatic animals and provide poor water quality for humans.  By cleaning the water and storing toxins in their soft parts, mussels actively alert humans to problems within the water.

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