Virginia flexes mussel restoration with new grants

Oysters get most of the attention when it comes to cleaning local waterways, but mussels can be just as important to the ecosystem.

They can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day. Their outer shells serve as home to aquatic plants and algae. Mussels also taste great with butter when harvested.

But their numbers in the Chesapeake Bay and James River have been dwindling.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and the James River Association recently received federal grants from the Chesapeake Watershed Investments in Landscape Defense program to restore mussel populations.

The CBF will receive about $74,000 to map the best areas to create streamside buffers for mussels. The James River Association will receive about $52,000 to develop a plan for the James. The projects are among the first of 12 funded under the WILD program, which was established by Congress in 2020 to support restoration and conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The number of Chesapeake Bay mussels has dropped about 90% since the British started colonizing Virginia shores in the early 1600s. Today only about 30% percent of the 82 species of mussels in Virginia are considered stable. Six species are considered threatened or endangered.

The DWR will work with the CBF and make maps showing what mussels were found and where.

“It can tell us we need to put forested buffers here or restore a species here,” said Joe Wood, senior scientist at CBF.

The grant money will also allow the Smithsonian Institution and Florida Museum of Natural History to create 3D scans of shells and printable educational sheets to be used in classrooms.

“The idea is to put these things in people’s hands,” Wood said.

The new funding continues work the groups have been doing for years. Twenty years ago, the James spinymussel was introduced into tributaries around the James. In 2020, another 10,000 were released. More spinymussels were planted in the main stem of the James in August.

Everett Eaton, 262-902-7896,