Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 18, 2015

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Lawsuit Filed to Save Three Freshwater Species From Extinction in
Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect three of the Southeast’s aquatic species under the Endangered Species Act. The Center petitioned for protection for the animals in 2010, but five years later the Service still has not issued the legally required decision on their protection. The trispot darter, sickle darter and yellow lance mussel are at risk of extinction due primarily to water pollution and dams.

Trispot darters live in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee; sickle darters live in Tennessee and Virginia and have already gone extinct in North Carolina; and yellow lance mussels live in North Carolina and Virginia.

Monarch population map
Trispot darter photograph by Bernard Kuhajda. This photo is available for media use.

“It’s a tragedy that freshwater animals are being lost to extinction at a thousand times the natural rate,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “It’s important that we save the animals that depend on our rivers and lakes, because protecting them will help protect the clean water people need to survive, too.”

The Southeast is a global hotspot of both biodiversity and extinction. The region is home to more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but has already seen more than 50 freshwater animals go extinct in recent years.

“People don’t think about the little species that live in streams and rivers, but there’s a whole fascinating world just under the surface," said Curry. “The Obama administration and Congress need to dramatically increase funding for endangered species in the Southeast to keep the region’s incredibly rich natural heritage from being lost forever.”

Some darters communicate with each other by “talking” and the males build nests and defend them. Freshwater mussels make lures to attract fish, and then they propel their larvae into the fish’s faces so the tiny mussels can develop on the fish’s gills.

The two darters and the mussel are on the list of 10 species across the country that the Center is prioritizing for Endangered Species Act protection this year. Under a settlement agreement with the Service that expedites protection decisions for 757 species, the Center can push forward 10 listing decisions per year. Under the landmark settlement that the Center and the Service reached in 2011, 141 species have already gained Endangered Species Act protection, while another 11 have been proposed for protection. The Center is working to save hundreds of Southeast freshwater species from extinction.

Species Background
The trispot darter is a beautiful, colorful fish that is about 1.5 inches long. It eats midge fly larvae and is in turn eaten by black bass and other large fish prized by anglers. It is found in the Coosa River watershed in northern Alabama, northern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee, and in the Conasauga River watershed above the confluence with the Coosawattee River in Georgia and Tennessee. It was thought to be extinct in Alabama for more than 50 years until it was found in Little Canoe Creek in 2008. It is already ranked as an endangered species by the American Fisheries Society and by the state of Georgia, and as a threatened species by the state of Tennessee. It is threatened by sprawl because stormwater runoff from urbanization degrades the high water quality it needs to survive. It is also threatened by runoff from logging roads and by dams and drought.

The sickle darter is large by darter standards, growing to be 3.5 inches long, and it has larger scales than other darters and a prominent black stripe on its side. It has a large mouth and long snout and feeds on small crayfish and mayflies. It historically occurred in the upper Tennessee River of Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, including the French Broad, Emory, Holston and Clinch rivers. The species has been wiped out from streams where it was once found and is extirpated in North Carolina. It is known to have been in need of protection for years, but the Service has lacked the funding to conduct surveys and enact protection. It is ranked as threatened by the American Fisheries Society and the state of Tennessee. The sickle darter is threatened by water pollution from agriculture, industry and sprawl.

The yellow lance is a long, freshwater mussel that grows to be around 6 inches in length, with a shell that is more than twice as long as it is tall. Juveniles have bright-yellow shells that darken to brown or black with age. The inside of the shell is salmon, white or iridescent blue. The yellow lance is native to the coastal plain of Virginia and North Carolina. The mussel is sensitive to bad water quality and has been wiped out from more than half of its range, with remaining populations teetering on the brink of extinction. It is ranked as endangered by the American Fisheries Society and the state of North Carolina. It is threatened by pollution from agriculture, logging and municipal development and by dams. Mussels are also threatened by any factors that threaten the host fish that they depend on to be able to reproduce. Mussels are indicators of water quality because they filter water constantly to breathe and feed, but in doing so, they accumulate pollutants in their flesh.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back