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Biologist helps find balance between humans and nature
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Jon Duyvejonck, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, checks the frozen waters of the Mississippi River near the opening to Sunset Marina in Rock Island.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Jon Duyvejonck, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, says the Mississippi River is the most significant natural resource in the Quad-Cities area.
ROCK ISLAND -- It really comes down to the clash of two powerful and relentless forces.

On the one hand are humans, who have gained the power to permanently alter the landscape around them in a matter of months, days or even minutes. On the other hand is nature, which usually takes much, much longer -- often thousands or millions of years -- to make change.

When that clash between human progress and nature's creations involves the Mississippi River, it's the job of Jon Duyvejonck and other staffers at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Quad-Cities branch to try to find a balance between the two.

"(The river is) the most significant resource in our area and that is why we devote most of our time to that," said Mr. Duyvejonck, of Rock Island, who is a biologist.

An example: Rock Island's Sunset Marina wants to mitigate the problem of silt getting into its harbor, but there is a long bed of mussels adjacent to the marina that could be affected by the project.

"Hopefully we can find an arrangement that will protect the mussels," Mr. Duyvejonck said one recent snowy day at the marina.

He was trying to give an idea of the extent of the mussel bed, trudging through the crunchy snow on the long, thin tongue of land that comprises the riverside portion of the north side of the park, not far from 18th Avenue.

"It starts up here somewhere and runs all the way to the Rock River," he said. A bed can run for miles but only be a few feet wide, he added.

Projects big and small, whether they involve finding the best way to put in a boat dock or to compensate for changes in the river caused by a nuclear power plant, the FWS is usually involved.

Other jobs include educating the public, checking water quality, monitoring the health of native species, helping plan the restoration of wetlands and trying to prevent the intrusion of non-native species.

This mix creates many interesting sights at the FWS building in Moline, where Mr. Duyvejonck gave a tour prior to the visit to Sunset.

In his office, next to his desk, was an aquarium full of fresh water mussels. They are not the most exciting of aquarium tenants, but one of them he rescued from a mussel bed destroyed by a project.

On a shelf by the door was a small, lumpy looking fish in a jar. Unlike the mussels, the fish was quite dead, looking like something destined for dissection in a high school laboratory.

It was a round goby -- an example of an invasive species. The FWS believes the ugly little fellows, native to Europe and Asia, accidentally were introduced into the U.S. in ballast water from ships traveling on the Great Lakes.

On a table in the FWS garage are examples of things people are not supposed to have under federal law: pelts from endangered animals, a walrus tusk and crocodile handbag. Mr. Duyvejonck said the items are confiscated by other jurisdictions and when they are done with the contraband, it is given to the FWS for educational purposes.

Also on the table is another example of an invasive species. It is a large native mussel shell infested with zebra mussels. The zebra mussel is another European intruder introduced via the Great Lakes, according to the FWS. When they take up residence on a native mussel's shell, they eventually can kill the host, Mr. Duyvejonck said.

Nearby is a freezer packed with plastic bags, each with a dead wild animal inside, from sturgeons to young raptors.They were collected during various surveys and will be tested to see if they can shed light on what was going on in the environment around them when they died. Some of them were collected after an ethanol spill in the Rock River near Rockford, said Mr. Duyvejonck. The contaminated water flowed down the Rock past the Quad-Cities and the FWS watched for problems caused by the spill.

"(The Rockford spill) didn't seem to have much of an effect," he said.

Mr. Duyvejonck said his office believes the contaminant was so diluted by the time it reached the Quad-Cities that issues were minimal.

In another spot in the garage is a collection of weighted bowls that FWS staff hope to use to keep tabs on water quality, he said. The experiment involves putting small containers of native mussels in the bowls. The mussels' tissues tend to soak up things that are in the water around them.

"They'll pick that up in their body tissue and we can test that tissue," he said.

Back at Sunset Marina, Mr. Duyvejonck points out another way to use mussels, or at least their empty shells. Muskrats eat mussels, and leave the shells in piles called middens. The shells in those middens can be counted to get an idea of the mussel population's size.

"It's a quick and dirty indicator," he said.

A few moments later, the conversation drifts away from mussels.

"I wonder what that blue heron is doing hanging around here," Mr. Duyvejonck said. "He just doesn't want to leave."

It was late morning, though it was hard to tell from the grayness of the snowy day. The lanky heron was settled on a light pole.

"That guy's probably just resting from eating breakfast," he said.

It was a little late in the year to see a heron, but Mr. Duyvejonck said the bird's presence could be explained by several possible factors or a combination of them, including better habitat, or a larger population.

"If there's open water, they'll make it," he said.








Local events heading








  Today is Friday, April 18, the 108th day of 2014. There are 257 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: A new steamer, Keithsburg, now is at our levee taking on board the balance of her fixtures preparatory to assuming her position on the daily Rock Island and Keokuk line.
1889 -- 125 years ago: C.W. Hawes was appointed deputy county clerk by county clerk Donaldson.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Mrs. O.E. child, of Moline, was named president of the Women's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church Rock Island District of the Central Illinois conference.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Augustana College is making plans for a drive for funds to erect a field house and make football field improvements.
1964 -- 50 years ago: A expanded election coverage system featuring a 16-foot chalkboard showing up to the minute running totals, attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd to The Argus newsroom last night.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Balloons frame Rock Island attorney Stewart Winstein who was given a surprise party in the rotunda of the Rock Island County Courthouse on Thursday to honor his 50th year of practicing law.




(More History)