The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
14 Life Below Water

14 Life Below Water (51)

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

california condor NPSIn September, six California condors repeatedly ventured north from their Pinnacles National Park homeland to Mount Diablo in the San Francisco Bay area, becoming the first condors seen in that area in over a century. Biologists speculate the sorties may indicate new nesting territories. Seen here is a condor deemed California condor 87 by biologists tracking the rare bird population.  Michael Quinn/National Park Service

Rare and threatened animals used innate skills and courage to recover lost territory, expand their ranges, or simply survive against the odds. Humans helped.

This article was originally published by The RevelatorTim Lydon writes from Alaska on public-lands and conservation issues. He has worked on public lands for much of the past three decades, both as a guide and for land-management agencies, and is a founding member of the Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation.

It’s tradition to honor the past year’s human achievements. From peacemakers and scientists to athletes and artists, we celebrate those who inspire us. But what about the wildlife who surround us who make up the biodiversity that sustains us? Each year standout members of those populations also set records and push boundaries, many with lasting results.

Consider P-22, also known as the “Hollywood cat.” In 2012 this young mountain lion surprised biologists and captured hearts by establishing a decade-long residency in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles. Stealthily threading through backyards and freeways, he demonstrated the value of landscape connectivity, even in urban areas. And though he died in 2022, he inspired a massive fundraising campaign that helped build the largest wildlife bridge in the United States, to be completed in 2025 over California’s 10-lane Highway 101. In this way he changed the world.

Other animal pioneers accomplished similarly remarkable feats in 2023. Ocelots, grizzlies and many more used their innate skills and courage to recover lost territory, expand their ranges, or simply survive against the odds. Some were helped by human actions like stream restoration, while others, like P-22, created opportunities to deepen scientific knowledge and inspire conservation.

Here are some of their stories. 

Last modified on Saturday, 06 January 2024 21:26
Wednesday, 03 January 2024 20:06

RESCHEDULED: Mudchasers wanted: Sign up to track pollution and sediment pumps

Chris Irwin

KNOXVILLE — Join Chris Irwin and others to learn how to help track the origin of sediments and other pollutants in area waterways.

The meeting was postponed by snow and is now set for 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at Barleys, 200 East Jackson Ave., Knoxville.

“Spring is coming and with it rain and mud into the creeks and streams around Knoxville. We think a handful of people working together can stop a lot of mud going into the Tennessee River.

“This meeting is to show maps, a free app for gps pics, and a process to follow mud to its source so we can rat out the developers and others being sloppy with the health of our streams. We have the technology.” 
Last modified on Friday, 26 January 2024 00:11

Arctic 3Polar bears on Wrangel Island, Russia. As the sea ice melts each summer, more than 1,000 bears come to Wrangel to wait for the return of the sea ice. It's the largest concentration of polar bears on Earth. BBC Studios via Tennessee Aquarium

Learn how the Arctic still thrives in the face of existential climate threats in new IMAX film

Doug Strickland is a writer for the Tennessee Aquarium.

CHATTANOOGA — At first glance, the Arctic seems an impossibly inhospitable place, a frigid wasteland of extremes in which nothing can survive.

Only one-quarter of this vast polar region at the top of the world is made up of land. The rest is comprised of a glacially cold ocean capped by vast stretches of ice. 

Despite its harsh conditions, life has found a way to endure — and even thrive — in the Arctic. Audiences will meet just a few of the Arctic’s charismatic residents on Jan. 11, 2024 when the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater debuts a new giant-screen film, Arctic 3D: Our Frozen Planet

Last modified on Friday, 12 January 2024 00:39
Tuesday, 02 January 2024 18:51

Fish are featured this month at Conservation on Tap

347098237 250038400911555 736972369222822085 nBarrens topminnow (Fundulus julisia) at Conservation Fisheries, a native stream fish breeding center. This species is endangered (IUCN). It is only found in the Barrens Plateau in Middle Tennessee, making it one of the rarest fish in eastern North America. © Joel Sartore 2023

KNOXVILLE — The next round of Conservation on Tap features Conservation Fisheries and its efforts to restore and conserve some of the most diverse fish populations on the planet.

It’s set for 7 p.m. Jan. 10 at Albright Grove Brewing Company, 2924 Sutherland Ave. Proceeds from the event benefit Discover Life in America, a crucial science partner with Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Did you know the incredibly diverse Tennessee River harbors over 225 species of fish, including more than 50 species at risk of extinction? Come join staff from Knoxville nonprofit Conservation Fisheries Inc. to learn about CFI's mission to prevent the extinction of rare fish species, and to work for their long-term recovery. We will be discussing some of our successes in fish recovery efforts over the past 37 years, including species found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”


Last modified on Thursday, 11 January 2024 09:10

1703176490365.jpgCarl Williams, a TWRA fisheries technician and self-taught crayfish biologist.  TWRA

MORRISTOWNCarl Williams, a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fisheries technician and self-taught crayfish biologist retired after dedicating more than four decades to wildlife and fisheries conservation and management. 

Williams began working with TWRA in August 1979 through the Young Adult Conservation Corp (YACC), which was a federally funded program. Initially hired for a one-year assignment, he worked with lands management wildlife biologists on various projects, including white-tailed deer and wild turkey restoration. 

The subsequent year marked a shift as he joined TWRA’s Fisheries Division, conducting creel surveys on Cherokee and Douglas reservoirs. In August 1981, he transitioned to the Buffalo Springs Trout Hatchery spending the next seven years propagating and rearing rainbow, brown, brook, lake and Ohrid trout, and distributing them throughout many streams, rivers and reservoirs in East Tennessee. 

Last modified on Saturday, 30 December 2023 11:01

AlewivesAlewives returned by the millions after the Edwards and Ft. Halifax dams were removed in Maine.  John Burrows/ASF via The Revelator

By providing both mitigation and adaption, dam removal can lower greenhouse gas emissions and restore carbon sinks.

This article was originally published in The Revelator. Gary Wockner is an environmental activist, scientist and writer in Colorado.

As the climate crisis escalates, a huge amount of attention and money is being focused on climate solutions.

These can be divided into two categories: solutions that pursue “mitigation,” which lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and those that pursue methods to adapt to climate impacts to increase human and ecological resiliency.

Dams, of course, create enormous environmental harms, many of which have already been described in scientific literature. Equally well documented is the fact that removing dams can restore seriously damaged ecosystems. But missing from almost every climate-solution story and study is how dam removal can be key for both mitigation and adaptation.

Here are 10 reasons how dam removal fights climate change.

Last modified on Saturday, 30 December 2023 11:00

Skip to main codownload-2.jpg An eastern newt in its juvenile stage in Blacksburg, Virginia. Courtesy SELC.

Salamanders are under siege in a changing world

Salamanders are extraordinary creatures. Some of these astonishing amphibians boast vibrant colors and patterns while two-thirds of all species are lungless and able to breathe through their skin. All salamanders have the remarkable ability to regrow limbs, tails, and even parts of their heart and brain, a rare ability in the animal kingdom. 

More salamander species live in the Appalachians than anywhere else in the world. Fifty-four species of salamander call Virginia home.

Roughly 20 percent of the world’s salamander species can be found in the South

Unfortunately, the impacts of climate change, habitat loss and pollution pose a real danger to these sensitive creatures. Increased temperatures, changing humidity levels, wildfires and droughts wreak havoc on salamanders, which are impacted by even small changes in habitat conditions and are often specialized to small native ranges. 

Southern Environmental Law Center’s work addressing climate change, fighting for clean water, and conservation efforts help protect all kinds of salamanders in the South. To celebrate the Endangered Species Act’s 50th anniversary, they are highlighting some of the endangered and threatened salamanders of our region.

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 December 2023 00:45
Monday, 13 November 2023 13:35

Extreme drought endangers fish species

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USFWS_and_Tennessee_Aquarium_biologists_collect_Laurel_Dace_during_2016_drought.jpgRepresentatives from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute work together to rescue Barrens Topminnows imperiled by an exceptional drought in Nov. 2016.  Tennessee Aquarium

Drought conditions threaten some of the nation’s most-endangered fish species

Casey Phillips is a communications specialist at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

CHATTANOOGA — The endless parade of sunny, cloudless days in Chattanooga for the last two months may seem like the stuff of dreams to anyone planning an outdoor activity. However, this fall has turned into a blue-sky nightmare for aquatic species living in smaller creeks and streams.

“Some of those headwater pools are going to dry up, and we’ll lose large numbers of populations,” said Dr. Bernie Kuhajda, an aquatic conservation biologist at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. “It just doesn’t look good for our headwater fish communities out there. They’re really getting stressed.”

Less than half an inch (0.42 inches) of rain fell in Chattanooga during a 72-day span between Aug. 30 and Nov. 9, according to meteorological data recorded at Lovell Field. That’s just 0.16 inches more than fell in Death Valley, California, during the same period, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

As of the latest weekly report by the government’s U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Hamilton County is now considered to be experiencing a D4 or “exceptional” drought, the Monitor’s most severe drought category.

Bad news for endangered fish species like the Barrens Topminnow and Laurel Dace.

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 November 2023 01:08

Ela-Dam_Oconaluftee-River_Erin-McCombs28-1-2048x1536.jpgEla Dam on the Oconaluftee River in Cherokee. The dam is slated for removal to benefit aquatic species and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.  Erin McCombs

Ela Dam Removal Coalition moving forward after $4 million grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to commence river restoration project 

Erin McCombs is the Southeast Conservation Director of American Rivers.

CHEROKEEAmerican Rivers is working with a team on a massive effort to remove the Ela dam and restore the land and Oconaluftee River to its natural condition. Partnering with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), American Rivers is part of a coalition of federal, state, public, private, and non-profit organizations that has formed to remove the Ela dam.

Truly a village effort, the Ela Dam Coalition includes the EBCI, American Rivers, Mainspring Conservation Trust, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Environmental Protection Agency, American Whitewater, Swain County, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Northbrook Carolina Hydro II.

“Healthy rivers are essential to all life, and removing a dam is the fastest way to restore a river’s health. We appreciate this initial investment by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in  the restoration of the Oconaluftee River. We look forward to working with them to leverage this investment to fully realize this project to revitalize fish and wildlife habitat and restore vital cultural connections. We are grateful to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for their leadership, and for the partnership of Mainspring Conservation Trust,” said Tom Kiernan, American Rivers President and CEO.  

Blocking the Oconaluftee River’s natural flow impacts the aquatic habitats of many native fish, mussels, birds, and other wildlife which require it for sheltering, feeding, reproducing, and thriving in their natural environment. The removal of Ela dam will result in a cultural reconnection of the Oconaluftee River to the Cherokee people and the Qualla Boundary. 

The Oconaluftee River is home to 11 sensitive and rare aquatic species, some of which are only found in a few streams and rivers in western North Carolina, including the federally endangered Appalachian elktoe freshwater mussel, the Sicklefin Redhorse (NC Threatened), and Eastern Hellbender (NC Special Concern). Once complete, 549 miles of the Oconaluftee River watershed will be restored and expand habitat for these species. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 28 November 2023 23:42

Great fish caught on Watts Bar Reservoir

Randy Miller with his Watts Bar Reservoir large-mouth bass

Rhea County — Watts Bar Reservoir created in 1942, has remained a consistent bass fishery according to data collected over the past decades. Reservoir biologists are hopeful that a recent catch is reflective of Florida largemouth bass stocking efforts started in 2015. 

Randy Miller of Spring City caught an 11.22-pound largemouth bass on the reservoir and graciously shared the photo with reservoir biologist Mike Jolley. Jolley, an employee with over three decades of professional experience, grew up on the lake and has intimate knowledge of its waters. Jolley shared, “We routinely evaluate our fisheries in reservoirs, including Watts Bar, to assess overall health of population dynamics. Some anglers have questioned the status of the bass fishery in this lake. I’m happy to share that Watts Bar has remained a consistent fishery based on long-term, routine data collection.”

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