ATLANTA, Georgia— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed the Altamaha spinymussel for protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The mussel occurs only in the Altamaha River drainage in southeastern Georgia. No juvenile spinymussels have been detected since 1990, and the Service concluded that the species is in immediate danger of extinction throughout its entire range. The spinymussel has been waiting as a candidate for protection since 1984.
“It’s a shame that this mussel languished under bureaucratic delay for 26 years,” said Tierra Curry, conservation biologist with the Center. “The delay in protection has allowed the spinymussel to decline so far that the situation is now dire, with only 57 mussels having been detected since 1997. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to immediately protect all candidate species.”
The proposed endangered listing includes the designation of 149 miles of critical habitat in eleven counties in the main stem of the Altamaha River. The primary threat to the mussel is water quality degradation due to erosion and runoff from agriculture, logging and kaolin mining, as well as toxic pollutants released from wastewater treatment plants and other sources. The mussel is also threatened by drought, reduced river flows and water diversions.
The Altamaha spinymussel grows to be up to four inches long and has spikes on the shell. The shell is pink or purple on the inside and green or brown on the outside. Mussels feed by filtering small food particles from the water and thus contribute to water quality by making the water clearer. Mussels reproduce by making a lure that looks like a young fish; when larger fish attempt to prey upon the lure, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. Juvenile mussels develop as parasites on the gills before dropping off to begin life on their own.
The spinymussel is part of a backlog of candidate species that, following today’s proposal, includes 249 species that are the subject of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups to expedite protection for the species. The Obama administration has only proposed protection for a total of 16 species, and in the conterminous United States has only finalized protection for one plant. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has failed to enact necessary reforms at the Fish and Wildlife Service to address the backlog of species that are likely to become extinct while waiting for protection.
“With threats to endangered species growing every day, lack of reform at the Service is endangering the country’s wildlife” said Curry.
Swift action to protect endangered species is particularly needed in southeastern rivers and streams, where the combination of unparalleled diversity and multiple threats is resulting in the worst extinction crisis in North America. In April, the Center submitted a petition to protect 404 southeastern aquatic species under the Endangered Species Act.
Learn more about our campaigns to stop the Southeast freshwater extinction crisis and earn protection for all the candidate species.