CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – The snail darter is a little fish with a big impact on the environmental struggle here in the Tennessee Valley and even nationwide.
The 3 inch darter lives in creeks and small rivers just in our part of the world.
But as numbers declined, it was one of the first species protected under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
The little snail darter even went to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to stop construction of the Tellico dam on the Little Tennessee River.
The dam was eventually built and the snail darter disappeared from the river.
But not before conservationists managed to transplant it to other rivers like the Hiwassee.
Now almost 50 years later, the endangered fish in close to getting off the list.
The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute rehabilitates many darters and they are excited about the possibility of the snail darters making a return.
Dr. Anna George is VP of Conservation and Science and Education for the Aquarium.
“One of the things that is really important about the snail darter is knowing that it is not just about this one species, it is about recovery of the whole Tennessee River . So one of the big changes that happened in the 1970’s was the passage of the Clean Water Act and that really cleaned up the rivers of the whole nation but especially here in the Southeast.”
This week, The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift Endangered Species Act protection from snail darters.
They now have spread their territory to Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
“The Endangered Species Act’s strength is that decisions are based on the best available science, and science now shows that the snail darter is recovered and a conservation success,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center.