City Cast

How Mussels Are Saving Anacostia River

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on August 3

Mussels act as natural water filters. (idisdao/Getty Images)

The Anacostia River is home to eight different species of mussels that are hard at work cleaning up the riverbed. They are constantly sucking up and expelling water as they feed and can filter between 10 and 20 gallons of water a day. They clean the water by eating algae, microplastics, and bacteria (including E. coli!).

As if that wasn’t enough, these little mollusks help settle sediment on the river bed, clearing the water for more aquatic vegetation to grow. This in turn provides homes for all sorts of creatures and crustaceans.

Mussels hard at work! (Kaela Cote-Stemmermann/City Cast DC)

Mussels hard at work! (Kaela Cote-Stemmermann/City Cast DC)

Sadly, we haven’t given nearly as much back to our shelly friends. The Anacostia used to be packed with mussels, but pollution and heavy metals in the water have caused five of these species to become endangered.

Nonprofits like the Anacostia Watershed Society have been tracking and restoring the local mussel populations at mussel hotspots like Buzzards Point, Kenilworth Garden ponds, and the Kingman marsh.

They use floating baskets to safely cultivate more than 33,000 mussels in the river since 2019. Collectively, they filter 132 Olympic-sized swimming pools annually!

Don’t get any ideas. Unlike their saltwater cousins, freshwater mussels are not delicious. Apparently, they taste like dirt and are as hard are the sole of your shoe.

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