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Ribbed Mussels Could Help Improve Urban Water Quality

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Ribbed mussels can remove nitrogen and other excess nutrients from an urban estuary and could help improve water quality in other urban and coastal locations, according to a study in New York City’s Bronx River. The findings, published in Environmental Science and Technology, are part of long-term efforts to improve water quality in the Bronx River Estuary.

Ribbed mussels can remove nitrogen and other excess nutrients from an urban estuary and could help improve water quality in other urban and coastal locations, according to a study in New York City’s Bronx River. The findings, published in Environmental Science and Technology, are part of long-term efforts to improve water quality in the Bronx River Estuary.

Researchers at NOAA Fisheries Milford Laboratory in Milford, Connecticut began the two-year pilot project in June 2011. They used a 20 x 20-foot raft with mussel growing lines hanging below as their field location in an industrial area near Hunt’s Point in the South Bronx, not far from a sewage treatment plant. The waters were closed to shellfish harvesting because of bacterial contamination.  Scientists monitored the condition of the ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa) and the water quality over time to see how each responded.

“Ribbed mussels live in estuarine habitats and can filter bacteria, microalgae, nutrients and contaminants from the water,” said Julie Rose, a research ecologist at the Milford Laboratory, part of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and co-author of the study. “They are native to the East Coast so there are no concerns about invasive species disturbing the ecosystem, and they are efficient at filtering a variety of particles from the water. Ribbed mussels are not sold commercially, so whatever they eat will not be eaten by humans.”

Farming and harvesting shellfish to remove nitrogen and other excess nutrients from rivers, estuaries and coastal waters is known as nutrient bioextraction, or bioharvesting. Mussels and other shellfish are filter feeders, and as the organisms grow, they take up or assimilate nutrients in algae and other microorganisms filtered from the surrounding waters.

Read more at NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Photo credit: Andrew C via Wikimedia Commons