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For Immediate Release, September 13, 2012

Contact:  Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190 or

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Imperiled Florida Bird, Crayfish

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect two Florida wildlife species, the black rail and the Big Blue Springs cave crayfish, under the Endangered Species Act. Both species are dependent on Florida’s freshwater and wetland habitats, which have been degraded by pollution, development and overconsumption of water resources.

“These unique Florida species are just a small sample of the fascinating, biologically important species native to Florida,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Center attorney based in Florida. “The aquatic habitats they live in are urgently threatened by water demands and pollution, and they need Endangered Species Act protection to survive and recover.”

The black rail is a shy bird that, like Florida’s human “snowbird” population, winters in South Florida but spends the rest of the year farther north on the Atlantic seaboard. It favors coastal wetlands, where it is threatened by development and sea-level rise related to global climate change. The Big Blue Springs cave crayfish is blind and translucent and only lives in five places in north Florida along a single watershed, where it is threatened by groundwater depletion and pollution.

These two species, though geographically diverse, share the common threats of habitat destruction, water pollution and increasing water withdrawals. 

“From north to south, Florida’s wild animals are suffering from the use and abuse of freshwater habitats,” said Lopez. “We’ve got to keep our water clean and make sure we don’t take more from our aquifers than can be replaced. That’ll not only help these two amazing wildlife species but also Floridians, now and in generations to come.”

In 2011, a year after the Center petitioned for their protection, the Service determined that black rails and crayfish “may warrant” federal protection as endangered or threatened species; yet it has failed to make the required 12-month findings to decide whether protection will be granted.


Black rails are secretive, rarely encountered migratory birds that winter in southern Florida. Often heard rather than seen, black rails prefer the higher parts of tidal marshes and can be found from the Gulf of Mexico to Volusia County, and coastal areas south. Continued habitat degradation and fragmentation via pollution, drought, wildfire, and changing water levels and land use threaten black rails, North America’s smallest rail. Because they nest in salt and freshwater marshes, water depth and quality are critical. Sea-level rise particularly threatens black rails. For example, breeding sites in Chesapeake Bay may be completely inundated by rising seas. In addition to their south Florida wintering sites, black rails occur year-round in Citrus, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

The Big Blue Springs cave crayfish are a cave-dwelling species considered critically imperiled due to their relatively limited range as well as habitat degradation. These translucent crustaceans are found only in aquatic caves at the bottom of limestone springs in less than five sites within a 12-mile radius in Jefferson, Leon and Wakulla counties. Changes in water quality and quantity threaten these blind cave-dwellers because they have evolved to be highly specialized for fast-flowing freshwater cave conditions. Florida recognizes the Big Blue Springs cave crayfish as a “species of greatest conservation need.”

The Southeast supports more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but the region has already lost more than 50 freshwater species to extinction in recent times. The Center is working to save more than 400 at-risk aquatic species in the Southeast.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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