The spring pygmy sunfish has been teetering on the brink of extinction for the 70-plus years it's been known to science. Existing only in one spring complex in the Tennessee River watershed in Alabama, the spring pygmy relies on the dense underwater vegetation found in spring pools both for shelter and as hunting grounds for the drifting insects and snails that are its prey. Unfortunately this tiny fish's habitat is rapidly changing — and in some cases, disappearing — due to development.
The spring pygmy has already twice been thought extinct since it was first discovered in 1937. While always a rare fish, the spring pygmy was once found in three spring complexes — by now it's been extirpated from two of them. Attempts to reintroduce a population into a tiny waterway called Pryor Spring were initially successful, but eventually the combined influence of dredging and agricultural runoff eradicated that population yet again. This fish is now limited to just one population living in a five-mile stretch of Beaverdam Creek.
The spring pygmy sunfish faces a long list of specific threats, including degradation of water quality, reduction of water quantity, and pollution in the form of pesticide and agricultural runoff. Developing the species' last refuge would quite likely prove to be its undoing.
The Center has been fighting to save the spring pygmy since 2009, when we filed a scientific petition seeking its emergency protection under the Endangered Species Act. We didn't stop fighting for that protection until it was granted in 2012.
After we filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its lack of response to our petition, in March 2011 the agency announced the spring pygmy may warrant protection. Things looked even better in July of that year after the Center reached a landmark agreement compelling the Service to make a listing proposal by 2012 — as well as move forward in the protection process for 756 other species. The Service proposed protection for the fish in October 2012.
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Contact: Noah Greenwald