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EGLE, Plaster Creek Stewards, and Calvin University students undertake first mussel survey in Plaster Creek

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) recently joined with volunteers from the Plaster Creek Stewards (PCS) and Calvin University students recently to conduct the first survey of mussels in the creek in Kent County.

A group – including EGLE staffers Dana Strouse and Kelsey Krupp – look for mussels in the Plaster Creek using aqua scopes.

A group – including EGLE staffers Dana Strouse and Kelsey Krupp – look for mussels in the Plaster Creek using aqua scopes. 


Native mussels play an important role in river communities by providing ecosystem health functions such as water filtration and nutrient cycling. They also serve as habitat for macroinvertebrates and other benthic creatures and are a food source both for fish and land animals such as otters, racoons and birds, including herons. Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled animal groups worldwide, meaning they are going extinct at alarming rates. Habitat degradation, river pollution and climate change are the primary causes of global decline. Knowing the status of mussels within a watershed helps broaden understanding of the creek and provides baseline information to compare to future surveys. Knowing where special concern, threatened, and/or endangered species are located also helps inform permit and restoration activities.

EGLE has funded restoration work at the creek, considered to be one of the more polluted creeks in West Michigan, for years. This past winter, Dana Strouse, a senior environmental quality analyst in EGLE’s Water Resources Division, the representatives of the PCS, and staff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Fisheries Division met to discuss what else should be studied in the watershed. They realized that no one had information on the status of mussels in the watershed. Joe Rathbun, a retired EGLE employee and mussel expert, verified that when he checked the University of Michigan’s mussel library and found there were no records of mussels in Plaster Creek.

So, in June EGLE staffers, joined volunteers from the PCS and Calvin University student to conduct the first mussel survey in the lower section of the Plaster Creek. Before they started, they were trained on how to find live mussels by going to a section of the Grand River that is known for its abundance and diversity of mussels.

Julia Klooster, a Calvin University student, finds the first mussel during the first mussel survey on the Plaster Creek.

Julia Klooster, a Calvin University student, finds the first mussel during the first mussel survey on the Plaster Creek. 


“It’s crazy to think in 2023, there had never been an official record of a survey being completed on Plaster,” notes Strouse. “Knowing what species are present will add to the dataset we have for monitoring change in the watershed.  Also, Calvin staff and students were excited to be trained on mussel identification and survey methods as they hope to be able to carry out more surveys in the future.”

The results were exciting, says Strouse. “On the first day, we found giant floaters, which we expected, but we were most excited to find a fluted shell mussel as it is a species of Special Concern.  We also found shells, but no live specimens of spike on day one, which indicates the species once lived in the creek, or perhaps still does at other locations. For our second day of surveying, we focused more on the upstream areas of the creek that are less impacted by urban development.

“We ended up finding over 100 mussels at one of our sites, including several species of special concern and a freshly dead lilliput shell (state endangered),” noted Amanda Chambers, EGLE aquatic biologist. “In total, for both of our sampling days, we ended up finding 13 different species represented by live individuals and/or shells, which is pretty cool for such a small, impacted stream.”

Chambers plans to submit the findings to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) to update its databases and get Plaster Creek officially “on the map” in terms of mussels. 

Want to know more about mussels in Michigan? Check out the Freshwater Mussels of Michigan and the mussel map viewer, which shows where mussels have been found in Michigan.