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Study: Southeast Home to "Underwater Rainforest"

Scenes from Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga as well as interviews from experts involved with the research.
February 2, 2017

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Tennessee and the rest of the Southeast are home to thousands of aquatic species, many of which are unique to the region.

After more than a year of research, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and the University of Georgia River Basin Center released a survey of more than 1,000 fish, crayfish and mussel species.

Anna George, the institute’s director, says scientists discovered that more than 90 percent of all American mussel and crayfish species live within a 500 mile radius of Chattanooga.

"The amazing thing about the Southeast is we have all of these animals living right here in our backyard, but because they're beneath the surface of the water we don't often get chances to see them unless you're visiting the aquarium,” she states. “But what's really great about this project is that we can raise all of that information to the surface."

Researchers also found that the long-term care and survival of waterways are crucial to the health and future of the wildlife.

Additionally, federal and state funding to support aquatic species in this study was lower compared with others found in the rest of the country.

George adds that researchers hope their survey will serve as a master plan to guide research and conservation work.

George says she also hopes the collection of information on the marine life will provide a framework for policy makers and conservation groups to move forward.

"We can look at where our animals are found, and really have a national conversation about, 'Hey, we have an underwater rainforest here in the Southeast,” she points out. “We have so much to protect,' and now we have the guidance on where to spend our time protecting it."

In Tennessee, the sub-basins of Pickwick Lake, Wheeler and Upper Clinch were listed among the highest priority watersheds in the survey. Priority was ranked based on the number of endangered or threatened species and the number of species overall.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN