ENDANGERED SPECIES • STEMMING SOUTHEAST FRESHWATER EXTINCTION by ierra Curry
A Treasure Trove in Trouble
Freshwater plants and animals are among the most threatened life forms on the planet. North America lost more than 120 freshwater species during the last century, and hundreds more now teeter on the brink.
owhere is the freshwater biodiversity crisis starker than in the American Southeast, where the combination of an incredibly rich native fauna, pervasive threats and little legal protection for rare and vanishing creatures are driving hundreds of unique and intriguing aquatic species toward extinction at a breakneck pace. N
The Southeast is the world center of aquatic biodiversity, with more species of freshwater mussels, snails and crayfish than anywhere else on Earth. The region also hosts more than 60 percent of U.S. fish species, half of all dragonflies and damselflies, and more species of aquatic reptiles than any other region.
Tragically, much of this unique fauna is at risk, including more than 70 percent of the region’s mussels, 48 percent of its crayfishes and 28 percent of its fishes. The major threats driving the crisis include dams, dredging, pollution, urban sprawl, mining, logging and poor agricultural practices.
To confront the crisis head-on, in spring 2010 the Center filed a petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for 403 aquatic, riparian and wetland species in the Southeast, including 92 crustaceans, 92 mollusks, 82 plants, 47 fishes, 32 flies, 18 beetles, 15 amphibians, 13 reptiles, five butterflies, four mammals and three birds.
Most of them are hardly famous; consider the Pascagoula map turtle, Yazoo crayfish, Black Warrior waterdog, Cape Fear spatterdock and frecklebelly madtom.
Our 1,145-page scientific petition was just the beginning of a large-scale campaign
to reverse the tide of extinction in the Southeast’s waterways. Now, these 400-plus species have been advanced one giant step toward Endangered Species Act safeguards, as part of our historic agreement with the Department of the Interior, struck in July, to move 757 species closer to protection under the Act.
We’re also hard at work to protect freshwater species that are already federally listed but still slipping toward extinction due to a lack of aggressive action to reverse their plight or stop ongoing habitat loss.
Finally, we’re excited to announce that we’ll soon open a new Southeast office in Florida, a base from which to fight for the region’s wildlife.
Living streams and rivers are not only vital for recreation and drinking water but also deeply linked to the rich history and culture of the Southeast. Generations have fished, swum and sometimes even been baptized in the region’s waters. By protecting the vast diversity of the Southeast’s river- dwelling species, we’re protecting quality of life for its people as well. •
read more about the Center’s
Southeast Freshwater Extinction Crisis campaign,
and to view an interactive map of all 403 species by state, visit www.biologicaldiversity.org/ freshwater_extinction.
Our freshwater campaign aims to preserve entire ecosystems by protecting a diverse list of more than 400 plant and animal species. Clockwise from top right: mussel extending its eshy sh lure, large-owered Barbara’s buttons, Alabama cave craysh, cobblestone tiger beetle, ashy darte , Pascagoula map turtle, Florida sandhill crane.
CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY SUMMEr 2011
PHoTo CREDITS, CLoCKWISE: MUSSEL USFWS; BARBARA’S BUTToNS © ToSHIKo GUNTER; CRAYFISH © GUENTER SCHUSTER; DARTER © CoNSERVATIoN FISHERIES; BEETLE © GIFF BEAToN; TURTLE © PAUL BRATESCU; CRANE © KATHLEEN jACKSoN