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October 24, 2016
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Hidden Treasures of the Delaware

This beautiful green-rayed specimen of an eastern elliptio mussel exhibits a color variation found in some juveniles from the Delaware and Neversink Rivers. Eastern elliptios make up the greatest animal biomass in the Delaware, and are the only mussel species here with consensus on their conservation status being “Secure.”
Photo by Erik Silldorff, DRBC

The Delaware River possesses a super-efficient “operating system,” which has an extraordinary ability to produce clean water and benefit numerous life forms, including ourselves. Such a system is not something we could easily or inexpensively re-engineer. Its wondrous function is largely influenced by simple mollusks that have been at work here in the Delaware for perhaps the past 15,000 years, since the river settled into its present form following the retreat of glaciers after the last ice age. They don’t require a lot to survive. A landscape and stream network that sends them relatively clean, cool, well-oxygenated water that is free of pollutants and an overabundance of sediment, and that provides adequate food material and connectivity with their fish hosts will do just fine. We would do well to maintain conditions that will keep their populations healthy here, ensuring that the yeoman’s work they do, gratis, for the river and all its stakeholders, continues into the future.

[Don Hamilton is the Chief of Resource Management for the National Park Service’s Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.]