Rare Alabama Sunfish May Warrant Protection


In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and fisheries biologist Mike Sandel, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today determined that Alabama?s spring pygmy sunfish may warrant protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and initiated a status review. The sunfish is limited to a small stretch of Beaverdam Creek and is threatened by urban sprawl from metropolitan Huntsville, poor agricultural practices and streamside vegetation clearance.

?The spring pygmy sunfish is only found on one place on Earth,? said Sandel. ?And that one place is severely threatened by urban sprawl, pollution and poor management.?

Discovered in 1937, the sunfish was twice presumed extinct during the 70 years it has been known to science. It is limited primarily to headwater springs and historically occurred in three small disjunct spring complexes (Cave, Pryor and Beaverdam springs), separated by up to 65 miles. Two of the three populations have disappeared. The Cave Springs population was extirpated in 1938 due to inundation by the formation of Pickwick Reservoir; the Pryor Springs population disappeared by the late 1960s, most likely due to dredging and chemical contamination; and the single remaining native population occupies roughly five river miles within the Beaverdam Springs complex.

?Protection as an endangered species is the last hope for the spring pygmy sunfish,? said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. ?The sunfish is one of a vast number of Alabama fish species in desperate need of federal protection.?

Alabama leads the nation in richness of aquatic diversity, including fish, mussels, snails and turtles. Unfortunately, much of this diversity is threatened by the destruction of streams and wetlands. Leading scientists recognize 124 species of fish as being imperiled in Alabama. Of these, only 14 are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The spring pygmy sunfish is one of the many species without protection that are barely clinging to life.

?There?s still time to save the spring pygmy sunfish, but only if we act fast to protect its habitat from careless development and unsustainable agricultural practices,? said Sandel.

Last year, the Center petitioned for 404 other southeastern aquatic species, including fish, mussels and crayfish. A finding on the petition is expected in the near future.

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