I felt like I was in a Hitchcock movie the other day when hundreds of birds descended upon my yard for a breather during their migration journey, and it occurred to me how much freedom birds have in relation to freshwater fish.
Migrating freshwater fish, such as the lake sturgeon and spotfin chub, have a technical name: potamodromous fish (potamos=river, dromos=racer). They also have problems. Dams of all sizes and types, as well as poorly constructed river crossings and culverts, create barriers for migration patterns. In some cases, these barriers have irreversibly altered the natural habitat these fish need to thrive – or even just survive. US Fish & Wildlife Service has a simple introductory video here.
Aquatic connectivity is the name given to the study and activity related to removing these barriers – when appropriate – to restore stream flow to its natural state. Across the Southeast and beyond, there are people working every day to survey streams, study habitats, repair culverts, and prioritize dam removals.
In Tennessee, Rob Bullard of The Nature Conservancy leads the Tennessee Aquatic Connectivity Team – a collaboration of experts and advocates working to remove manmade barriers in the state. Read more from Rob about Rethinking Dams.
The Tennessee River Basin Network’s primary objective is to protect aquatic biodiversity, and connectivity is a huge part of that effort. Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership is a collaboration of experts and organizations that “strengthen the management and conservation of aquatic resources in the southeastern United States.” One of their projects, the Southeast Aquatic Connectivity Program, is currently recruiting experts and volunteers to help survey streams and participate in connectivity initiatives in the Southeast.
Reconstructing a stream crossing or removing an obsolete dam is no small matter. These projects take considerable time, money, and effort, and are only possible when organizations, agencies, and community members work together, such as when American Rivers led a successful long-term project to reconnect Citico Creek in the Little Tennessee River watershed in SE Tennessee.
To volunteer for an Aquatic Connectivity work group or learn more, contact [email protected].