Ohio River Shows Signs of Flexing its Mussels
The State Journal
17 July 2014
By Mike Ruben
Matthew Magruder gets pumped about mussels.
As manager of visitor services for the Ohio River Islands National
Wildlife Refuge, Magruder is obviously concerned about the
condition of the stream. Approximately 40 mussel species do their
share by providing a living under water filtration system for the
“Mussels are a very good indicator species of the health of the
river,” said Magruder, who is based at the U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service office near the Wood County community of
Williamstown. “How well they are doing in the river is indicative
of everything else in the river. If the mussels are doing well, it
usually means everything is doing well because they are so
sensitive to the pollutants and the particulates in the river.
When they drop off then that’s an indicator that everything is
going to be in trouble.”
Mussels were once a source for the manufacture of buttons. They
may not be thriving, but they are improving.
“The Ohio is historically a very polluted river,” Magruder said.
“A lot of industry is located along the river and big cities are
near it. Mussels were extremely imperiled before the Clean Water
Act (1972) was implemented, but they are taking a positive turn.”
The casual observer overlooks the mussel impact, according to
Magruder. Freshwater mussels act like little water filtration
pumps on the bottom of the river. They not only serve as a food
source for other species, they clean the water.
“The underwater area is very important,” said Magruder, a Virginia
native with a graduate degree from Michigan State University.
“Mussels improve river quality. We’re trying to improve their
health and numbers.”
An ongoing concern has been an invasion by the non-native zebra
Organized in 1990, Ohio River Islands Refuge consists of 26
locations (22 islands) along a 362 mile stretch between Pittsburgh
and Cincinnati. Eighteen of the islands are situated in West
Virginia water along with two each in Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
Magruder said it is essential to restore and protect the habitat
along one of the nation’s busiest inland waterways.
“The objective that we’re trying to accomplish ecologically is the
preservation and conservation of the quality river environment for
the wildlife and people of the Ohio Valley,” he said. “The islands
provide a fairly rare habitat that has been diminishing over time.
Mammals, birds and fish need a place to live and keeping some of
the habitat in its natural form is very important for the health
of the river.”
Nearly 200 species of migratory birds frequent the total of 3,400
acres as a place to feed and rest. Waterfowl including wood ducks,
mallards and Canada geese nest on the refuge. There are 100
species of fish such as bass, catfish and sauger.
Refuge islands are open to the public, but accessible only by boat
with the exception of Middle Island at St. Marys and a small
parcel located on Wheeling Island.
Memberships ($15 individual or $25 family) are available for the
Friends of the Ohio River Islands National Refuge, 3982 Waverly
Road, Williamstown, WV 26187-9529.
The Williamstown headquarters offers a visitor’s center with
exhibits and walking trails. The facility is open from 8:30 a.m.
until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the center at
304-375-2923, on Facebook or at fws.gov/refuge/ohio_river_islands/