Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 14, 2018

Contact:  David Whiteside, Tennessee Riverkeeper, (423) 451-6807,
Elise Bennett, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 755-6950,

Tennessee Riverkeeper Joins Lawsuit to Protect Critically Endangered Alabama Fish From Auto Plant

Massive Development Threatens Survival of Rare Spring Pygmy Sunfish

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.— Tennessee Riverkeeper today joined the Center for Biological Diversity in filing a formal notice of intent to sue Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. Inc. and the city of Huntsville over the construction and operation of an automobile factory in the heart of the most important habitat for one of Alabama’s rarest fishes.

"We need to take every step we can to ensure that we protect the abundance of aquatic biodiversity God blessed us with, including the spring pygmy sunfish,” said David Whiteside, executive director of the Tennessee Riverkeeper.  “We don’t have to choose between jobs or clean water. We can have both by ensuring existing laws are enforced. These are values shared by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.”  

The $1.6 billion automobile assembly plant, being built on a 2,400-acre area west of Huntsville, threatens to pollute and degrade springs, streams and wetlands that support one of only two remaining populations of the critically endangered spring pygmy sunfish. The massive industrial development will include a large factory and parking lots covering hundreds of thousands of square feet. Construction activities started in June and, after a brief pause, resumed in late July.

The threat of this type of development led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the sunfish under the Endangered Species Act in 2013. Agency experts explained that changing land use “from rural to urban/industrial within the Beaverdam Spring/Creek area will be detrimental to the spring pygmy sunfish” because it will degrade water quality, disrupt stream flow and fragment remaining habitat.

“Both Toyota and Mazda are responsible for making sure they don’t wipe one of Alabama’s rarest fishes off the face of the earth,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney representing the two nonprofit groups. “If these companies want to be good neighbors, they’ll put comprehensive protections in place before it’s too late for the sunfish.”

The spring pygmy sunfish is a small, striped fish that rarely grows larger than an inch and is known for its complex courtship “dance,” which involves fin undulations, vertical bobbing, weaving and “dashing.” Since its discovery in 1937, the spring pygmy sunfish has hovered on the brink of extinction. Habitat loss and degradation caused the small fish to completely disappear from two of three springs it was known to inhabit, leaving the Beaverdam Spring and Creek complex, and the surrounding area, as the one of the last known areas of occupied habitat.

Spring pygmy sunfish

Spring pygmy sunfish photo courtesy Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The mission of Tennessee Riverkeeper is to protect the Cumberland and Tennessee River and the tributaries by enforcing environmental laws and educating the public. Tennessee Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization, governed by a board of directors. For more information, visit or social media.

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