And far too many of them are endangered.
Tennessee has some astounding waterways, home to one of the most diverse populations of freshwater mussels in the world. Over a hundred species can be found within Tennessee alone.
Several of those species are endangered, which is not a good sign, because a mussel is to water quality what the proverbial coal mine canary is to air quality.
A small mussel can filter over 12 gallons of water per day and play significant roles in healthy ecosystems. According to Dan Hua of the Cumberland River Aquatic Center in Gallatin, "By culturing, restoring, and conserving these species of freshwater mussels, we can help aid in clean water efforts in Tennessee water bodies."
(photo credit: TN Wildlife Resources Agency)
And that's exactly what she's been doing. With TWRA, Hua has stocked 79,593 mussels of 36 species, including 13 endangered, into 19 sites in nine different rivers in Tennessee since 2004.
A mussel die-off can be the first sign of a massive water pollution event, such as an illegal discharge from a legal permit holder. That's why better, more thorough, permit monitoring and enforcement is so desperately needed in Tennessee. Third-party oversight can mean the difference between strict or lackadaisical compliance - and between endangered and extinct mussel populations.
The great news is that oversight is not complicated, just time-intensive. Volunteers can easily be trained to monitor compliance in their own watersheds. TCWN would love to work with you to establish an effective, ongoing permit compliance effort in your community as part of its "Healthy Waters, Healthy Communities" program.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to bring "Healthy Waters, Healthy Communities" to your town. If you are interested in joining the discussion around freshwater mussel protections in Tennessee, email me email@example.com. And please become a member for just $10. There is power in members.
PS - Oldie but Goodie! This 1998 publication, The Freshwater Mussels of Tennessee, leaves few questions unanswered. Read some snippets here. The book is $60-70 and available at smile.Amazon.com. (Be sure to add TCWN as your charity of choice if you don't have one already.)