A €400,000 'pearl of wisdom' has saved one of Europe's last remaining colonies of a rare shellfish from being run over by a new motorway in the Republic.
The 500 freshwater pearl mussels -- now found only in a few isolated sites in Europe -- live in a small stretch of the River Nore, along the route of the new M7/M8 Dublin to Cork/Limerick motorway.
The shellfish, which can live for 100 years and are protected under law, faced the threat of extinction in Ireland due to excavation work on a bridge across the river as part of the new M7/M8 project.
However, the Republic's National Roads Authority (NRA) has funded a €400,000 project to save the mussels, which are found in a 6km stretch of the river upstream of Poormansbridge.
The shellfish were removed from the river and placed in a purpose-built captive breeding facility, where their condition is being monitored. It is planned to re-introduce the mussels back into the river over the next few months at the appropriate time of their life cycle.
Since the 1990s the population of pearl mussels has declined, with only 500 remaining in Ireland. It is the only species of mussel in Ireland listed for protection under the Habitats Regulations.
Pearl mussels are the oldest living creatures in Ireland and they have virtually disappeared from the rest of Europe over the past century due to climate change and pearl harvesting.
NRA spokesman Sean O'Neill said the cost of the project was estimated at about €400,000.
"These environmental measures are required when constructing any new motorway and there are significant costs associated with them," he said.
"But the benefits for a native species in Ireland will offer more than a pearl of wisdom for generations to come," Mr O'Neill told the Irish Independent.
The project was carried out by Arup Consulting on behalf of the NRA along with specialist consultant Dr Evelyn Moorkens.