Aquatic Conservation Initiative
Georgia is one of the richest states in aquatic biodiversity, ranking among the top five in the number of native species of snails, mussels, fishes and crayfishes. Unfortunately, Georgia is also ranked among the top states in aquatic fauna at risk. More than two-thirds of the state’s freshwater mussels are extinct, endangered, threatened or considered species of special concern. Approximately 30 percent of Georgia’s freshwater fishes and crayfishes fall under similar categories. While no comprehensive assessment exists for the state’s freshwater snails, many species have already disappeared from Georgia waters.
The Nongame Conservation Section launched the Aquatic Conservation Initiative in 1998 to determine the status of Georgia’s aquatic fauna and develop conservation plans for declining species. Primary objectives were to identify important populations of rare aquatic species through surveys and research, incorporate this information into the DNR database, and assist with conservation planning for rare aquatic species.
Since 2007, the Nongame Conservation Section has completed hundreds of surveys around the state, documenting or monitoring important populations of high-priority species such as the Altamaha spinymussel, Savannah lilliput, wounded darter and sicklefin redhorse. The most recent fish survey efforts have focused on the Coosawattee River system, where many new occurrences of the federally threatened goldline darter were documented during 2009-2010. Unexpectedly, researchers also documented the first occurrences of the federally endangered amber darter and the state endangered freckled darter in the Coosawattee River. Prior to the survey, these two species were only known from the Conasauga and Etowah river systems, a discovery that raises prospects for the fishes’ eventual recovery.
Data from these survey and monitoring efforts are entered into the Biotics Database Data. Partnerships are also maintained with the Georgia Museum of Natural History and the Stream Survey Team of WRD’s Fisheries Section, greatly expanding the amount of data available for environmental review and conservation planning. The database now contains about 2,100 distribution records representing important populations of 186 rare aquatic species from around the state.
The Nongame Conservation Section collaborates with conservation partners to meet critical research and conservation needs for rare aquatic species from around the state. Staff is working with the Conasauga River Alliance and the Tennessee Aquarium to remove sediment from a spring inhabited by the state endangered coldwater darter. In collaboration with WRD’s Game Management Section, Georgia Power and The Nature Conservancy, the Nongame Section is monitoring populations of Etowah and Cherokee darters in sections of Raccoon Creek targeted for stream restoration activities.
As part of a project to assess the impact of extreme drought conditions on mussel populations, staff led sampling efforts in drought-impacted waters in Georgia and Florida. The section also provided technical assistance to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in drafting a drought contingency plan for the conservation of rare and endangered mussels throughout the southeastern U.S.