Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 30, 2016

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

Three Southeastern Freshwater Species Move Toward
Endangered Species Act Protection in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity reached an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today setting deadlines for the agency to decide whether to protect three imperiled southeastern freshwater species under the Endangered Species Act. The Center petitioned for protection for the Alabama mussel, Georgia snail and Tennessee fish in 2010, but the Service has yet to make decisions on their protection. Under today’s agreement the Barren’s topminnow from Tennessee and the beaverpond marstonia from Georgia will get protection decisions in 2017, and the Canoe Creek pigtoe, a freshwater mussel found near Birmingham, Ala., will get a decision by 2020.

Canoe Creek pigtoe
Canoe Creek pigtoe photo by Frank Chitwood, Coosa Riverkeeper.

“These small but important freshwater animals need the effective protection of the Endangered Species Act, or we could lose them forever,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center. “The Southeast is home to more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but the region has already lost more than 50 of these species to extinction, so protecting these three irreplaceable species is urgent and important.”

The beaverpond marstonia is a tiny, tan freshwater snail known only from Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Flint River in Crisp County, Ga. Its shell has four whorls and is one-tenth of an inch tall. It was first discovered in 1977 and has not been detected in recent surveys, causing scientists to fear that it may be nearly extinct. It is threatened by pollution from cotton fields, groundwater withdrawal and urbanization. The Service must issue a decision on the aquatic snail’s protection by April 1, 2017.

Barrens topminnow is a small freshwater fish found in only three locations on the Barrens Plateau of south-central Tennessee. Its range is just three counties — Cannon, Coffee and Warren — in the headwaters of the Duck and Elk rivers in the Tennessee River drainage and the Caney Fork River system in the Cumberland River drainage.

It lives in clear, spring-fed streams with aquatic vegetation and declined from 14 known sites in the early 1980s to seven sites in the mid-1990s; it is currently known from only two to three viable populations. Reasons for the decline include water diversions and withdrawals for agriculture, drought, water pollution and predation by invasive mosquitofish. It is 4 inches long, flashily colored and swims near the surface of the water, where it preys on mosquito larvae and other insects. The Service must issue a decision on the fish’s protection by Dec. 31, 2017.

The Canoe Creek pigtoe, also known as the Canoe Creek clubshell, is a freshwater mussel that only lives in Big Canoe Creek, a tributary of the Coosa River, in northeast Alabama. It was first discovered in 2006. The mussel is threatened by erosion and water pollution from development, agriculture and natural-gas exploration, including fracking. The mussel is nearly 4 inches long, with a dark-yellow to brown shell and a salmon-orange, soft body. Juveniles have faint green stripes, and the inside of the shell is iridescent, mother-of-pearl white. Fewer than two dozen individuals have ever been seen. The Service must decide whether to protect the mussel by Sept. 30, 2020.

“Protecting these little animals we don’t often think about, like fish and mussels and snails, will also help safeguard clean water that people need,” said Curry.

Freshwater species play a critical role in maintaining the health of streams and rivers. Freshwater mussels filter water constantly, which removes harmful pollutants and makes the water clearer. Small fish and mollusks play an important role in the food web because they are eaten by larger fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

“The Southeast has an incredibly rich natural heritage, and we need to do everything we can to keep it intact for future generations,” said Curry.

Under the terms of a 2011 agreement with the Service, the Center can choose 10 species per year for expedited decisions on whether they should receive Endangered Species Act protection. The other seven priority species for 2016, with the years in which they will receive decisions, include the Northern Rockies fisher (2017), cobblestone tiger beetle (2019), monarch butterfly (2019), California spotted owl (2019), alligator snapping turtle (2020), foothill yellow-legged frog (2020) and Virgin River spinedace (2021). Under the settlement 147 species have gained protection to date, and 35 species have been proposed for protection.

Photos are available for media use:
Barrens topminnow
Canoe Creek pigtoe
Beaverpond marstonia

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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