Species name: freshwater pearl mussel
Nominated by: Freshwater Habitats Trust
IUCN Red List classification: Critically Endangered
What is so special about your species?
Freshwater pearl mussels are magnificent bivalves that live in rivers with exceptionally clean water and lots of healthy wildlife. Pearl mussels are spectacularly long-lived, often over 100 years, and have a fascinating life cycle. Baby pearl mussels need healthy populations of trout and salmon and live harmlessly in the gills of these fish, enjoying a safe, oxygen-rich nursery until they are big enough to begin life in the riverbed. In return, large populations of the filter-feeding pearl mussels provide a water cleaning service. A healthy population of Freshwater pearl mussels shows that a river and all its wildlife are doing well.
Freshwater pearl mussels were once widespread. Sadly, there are very few rivers where these marvellous mussels still live, and even fewer where baby mussels are able to grow into adults. Freshwater pearl mussels are now one of the most critically endangered species in the world.
What are the threats to this species in the wild?
Freshwater pearl mussels are not breeding well because our rivers are in a poor state. Nutrient pollution from agriculture and sediment washing off land are making our rivers uninhabitable for many species. Fish numbers have fallen so baby mussels cannot survive, and mussel beds are choked with silt and algae causing the adult mussels to die. People fishing for pearls, which is illegal, therefore is also a concern, even though they are very unlikely to ever find a pearl in a pearl mussel.
What can people do to help your species?
Anyone who looks after land can help by reducing the amount of pollution and soil running from their land into streams and rivers. There are many schemes that offer support for land managers looking to protect our clean, healthy rivers and help clean up polluted waters.