On Oct. 17, 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed 21 species from the endangered species list. Unfortunately, these species have been removed not because they have recovered but because they are officially being declared extinct. Eight of these species are freshwater mussels. Freshwater mussels are incredible creatures, and many species are unique to the Ohio River Basin.
Historically the Ohio River Watershed has been home to 127 of the 297 mussel species found in North America, however, 70% of these species are now endangered or extinct making them the most endangered organisms in North America. The delisting of eight mussels species due to extinction is alarming but sadly not a surprise. Nearly, all of the eight mussel species have been believed to be extinct for several decades. This recent ruling cements what science has known for many years. The Tubercled-blossom Pearly Mussel, one of the mussel species declared extinct, was once native to our region and the Ohio River Basin.
Our local freshwater mussels represent an important part of the biodiversity of our region and they also play an important role as filter feeders. One mussel can remove pollutants from up to 10 gallons of water per day! Imagine the impact this had when hundreds of thousands of mussels existed up and down the waterways of the Ohio River Watershed. Mussels provide an important environmental service and act as bioindicators. When mussels survive and thrive in our waterways, we all benefit. They are our canaries in the coal mine for water quality.