Home Green floater freshwater mussel at risk of endangerment; Virginia at center of saving them

Green floater freshwater mussel at risk of endangerment; Virginia at center of saving them

Crystal Graham
Green floater mussels
Group of green floater mussels (Photo by Ryan Hagerty/USFWS)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the green floater, a freshwater mussel found in 10 states including Virginia is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future due to existing and emerging threats.

The Service is proposing to list the mussel as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The green floater is still found in seven states within its native range: Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

While the species has strongholds in places, green floaters are rare in nearly 80 percent of the watersheds where they occur. More than 75 percent of the nation’s native freshwater mussel species are listed either as endangered or threatened, considered to be of special conservation concern or presumed extinct.

In watersheds where green floaters are common or even thriving, they face high risks of declines based on current land-use patterns. Development, energy production and agriculture have affected the quality of many streams within the species’ range, and increasing drought, intense storms and rising temperatures associated with climate change are projected to further degrade aquatic habitats.

As conditions change, green floaters in most places are unlikely to be able to disperse to new habitats that meet their needs: rivers or streams with low to medium flow rates, sand or gravel bottoms and clean water.

The Service is proposing to designate approximately 1,600 miles of river in eight units that are currently occupied by green floater as critical habitat in Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Freshwater mussels like the green floater are important indicators of healthy streams and rivers. At-risk mussel populations are a signal of problems that may also impact fish, wildlife and people.

Like other freshwater mussels, the green floater will benefit from conservation actions that target aquatic systems, including improved water-quality standards, land protection, river and stream protection and restoration and riparian-buffer planting projects.

The Service has undertaken proactive work to support conservation of the green floater, including experimentally raising them in captivity to bolster natural populations.

Biologists at White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery in West Virginia and Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery in Virginia have successfully propagated and released juvenile green floaters into Virginia rivers and streams. These efforts have the potential to restore populations of green floater in the future. However, these operations are limited in scope, and long-term population increases in the wild have yet to be documented.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.