The Tennessee Valley Authority, The Nature Conservancy and students from Lincoln Memorial University worked together to increase the population of freshwater mussels in the Powell River in Claiborne County.
The mussels may seem tiny, but they are part of a larger ecosystem which benefits outdoor tourism, businesses, agriculture and livestock farming. To illustrate the significance of the project, the TVA gave $100,000 for their efforts.
“The Powell River itself is important and helps with recreations use, but it’s more than that. There are business along the river, farmers use the water for agriculture to benefit crops and livestock. It’s important that the river goes back to a better state to benefit those uses,” said LMU associate professor Aggy Vanderpool.
Vanderpool is also the director of LMU’s conservation biology program and works alongside the Cumberland Mountain Research Center at LMU. She, along with several LMU students, participated in a mussel release program on Oct. 6 at the Well Being Conference Center in Tazewell.
“Mussels are just one piece of the ecosystem, but they’re kind of an important link. If mussels are there, they keep important nutrients in the sediments which benefits other organisms,” said Vanderpool, naming just one important job mussels have in the river.
Pollution from coal operation runoff along with over-harvesting for freshwater pearls and food led to the current state of the mussels in the Powell River. Collective efforts are now able to work to make a comeback since the stabilization of the river started in the 1980s.
The Powell River is part of a larger system which is one of the few biologically diverse river systems left in the southeastern United States that contains species on the endangered or threatened list. Oyster mussels, snuffbox mussels and the Cumberlandian Combshell mussel are three varieties which were part of the restoration project that are also on the endangered species list.
“This is a direct example for out students who are majoring in conservation biology to get a hands-on experience and learn about the different agencies working together in the field,” said Vanderpool.
LMU will be doing future research with the project partners.
Reach Kelsey Gerhardt at 606-302-9093 or on Twitter @kgerhardtmbdn.