On Thursday, June 11, 2020, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium will release 2,500 juvenile freshwater mussels into the Upper Bee Branch Creek as part of a new partnership with the City of Dubuque, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery, St. Mark Youth Enrichment, Multicultural Family Center, and the Dubuque Community School District.
The mussels will be split into two groups for the purpose of education and conservation. The first group of mussels will be placed in mussel rearing silos to track the growth of these animals in the creek and compare their growth to different water quality measurements collected throughout the summer.
“The silos provide an opportunity to engage youth and the community directly in authentic conservation work happening in their own backyards,” said Jared McGovern, the River Museum’s Curator of Conservation Programs.
Becoming the first official “Beekeepers” this summer, St. Mark Youth Enrichment students and youth from the Multicultural Family Center will participate in watershed stewardship programming, including but not limited to, aquatic invertebrate sampling, water quality testing, wildlife viewing, and freshwater mussel restoration. During the school year, Fulton Elementary and Audubon Elementary students enrolled in St. Mark’s before and after school enrichment programs will steward the Bee Branch Creek.
The remaining mussels will be placed in pockets of 500 throughout the remainder of the Bee Branch. Freshwater mussels are a keystone species in the Mississippi River, its tributaries, and most major river and lake systems in North America. A keystone species is a species in which other species depend. Without their presence, an ecosystem can change drastically.
Freshwater mussels clean the water as they filter feed, deposit nutrients in the sediments, and oxygenate these sediments through their burrowing actions. In large numbers, freshwater mussels hold the bottom of rivers in place, preventing erosion and providing a physical structure in which other organizations can grow, find shelter, and in some cases breed.
“Eventually, we hope that mussels and other aquatic animals will populate the Bee Branch Creek naturally,” stated Deron Muehring, Civil Engineer and Bee Branch Project Manager. “Introducing the mussels now will allow us to track their survival and growth and provide another indicator of the overall health of the creek. We know that by their very nature, the mussels will do their part and help improve the water quality within the creek.”
The mussels were supplied by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Genoa National Fish Hatchery whose mission is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will provide guidance in the stocking, surveying, and evaluating the success of the freshwater mussel restoration effort.