Showing off Our Mussels

Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest Member, Gina Graziano

As the school year comes to a close, Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School students have a lot to show off. Working incredibly hard at Willow Creek nearly every Wednesday of the school year, from 8:30am-1:00pm, students have accomplished an extraordinary amount of restoration work.

While our hard restoration work has surely given us muscles to be proud of, it has also given us mussels to be proud of! We have noticed shells of mussels in Willow Creek for quite some time but have just recently discovered what type of mussels they belong to, how their life cycle works, and why it is so cool to see them at our site!

The mussel shells or “valves” we have found belong to Oregon Floater Mussels, a type of mussel native to the Pacific Northwest. While most all mussels are fairly pollution sensitive, they are one of the more tolerant of the mussels of the Pacific Northwest. They reproduce sexually, creating embryos called glochidia. These glochidia then attach to the gills of a host fish where they are encapsulated by a small cyst which gives them the nutrients they need to grow. After a couple of weeks of being a parasite on a host fish, it falls off to rest on the benthic (bottom) area of a stream where it will hardly travel a few yards in its adult life. These mussels can live up to 100 years and are great biomonitors and contributors to the overall health of the stream.

While we were learning all about mussels, students were surveying the creek for macroinvertebrates, another type of biomonitor! Students found all sorts of bugs and managed to keep them a secret from the incoming class so they could discover the bugs for themselves!

Towards the end of the day one student asked, “If mussels are so good to have at Willow Creek, why don’t we just breed more and add them to the creek?” We all thought about it for a minute and realized that we have been doing just that. Sure, we do not have a mussel breeding operation in the works, but we have been increasing habitat, creating healthy water conditions, and caring for the overall health of the watershed.

We realized that you can’t just introduce an animal, you have to re-build its habitat and let the animal come back. Students for the past eight years have been introducing more and more wildlife to Willow Creek, possibly without even knowing it. Every tree planted, Reed Canary Grass patch shaded, and new shrub coffee bagged re-creates a healthy watershed, a creek full of life, and habitat for many species that do not have many wild places left to live in the Portland-Metro Area. Willow Creek and I will greatly miss our Wednesday ritual together over the summer but deeply appreciate all of the energy, questions, and hard work you have given to the project.

It will be so wonderful to hear more about the increased life at Willow Creek at the summit! Can’t wait to see you then!

Thank you, Clean Water Services, for funding the project.

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