Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center Officially Opens

On Friday October 29, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will hold a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m., for the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center (AABC). The dedication will take place at the AABC, located at 2200 Highway 175, Marion, Ala., 36756. Various local, federal and state officials, including Gov. Bob Riley, are scheduled to attend.

The mission of the AABC is to conserve and restore rare and endangered native freshwater mollusks (mussels and snails) to Alabama waters -- the largest state-run non-game recovery program of its kind in the U.S. Future projects to support non-game fishes and other aquatic species are planned. Facilities include three aquatic culture buildings, an administration building with offices and laboratory space, and 30 surface-acres of aquatic culture ponds in which to raise animals for study and release into Alabama waters.

The facility was last operated by the U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Division as the Claude Harris National Aquaculture Research Center, which closed in 1995. The property was deeded to the State of Alabama in 1999. The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) began renovations to the facility in 2005.

"Aquatic habitat and species recovery go hand-in-hand with the quality of water in Alabama," said Barnett Lawley, ADCNR Commissioner. "Alabama is proud to be taking a lead in this effort."

WFF Fisheries Section Chief Stan Cook agrees. "Conservation efforts like those of the AABC affect everyday practical issues such as the quality of our drinking water. Improving the water quality in Alabama also improves game-fish habitat, which is a win-win situation for everyone," said Cook. "This is just one piece of the puzzle that helps to improve the quality of life for all Alabamians."

According to AABC director Dr. Paul Johnson, Alabama has historically had the greatest number of freshwater mollusk, fish, and crayfish species of any state in the nation. For mussels and crayfishes, the region contains the highest species diversity on the planet. "Unfortunately that translates into Alabama also having the highest number of imperiled species in the nation as well," said Johnson.

To date Alabama has lost 67 species of freshwater mollusks to extinction and an additional 17 species cannot be found in state waters. For freshwater fishes, two species are considered extinct and nine cannot be found in state waters. Currently Alabama has 51 mollusk and 13 fish species considered Threatened or Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

"We have more than 12 federally listed and candidate species being raised at the facility, with plans for more in the future," Johnson said. "Prior to the dedication ceremony, we will be releasing several species into rivers and streams around the state in an effort to bolster or re-establish local populations."

Other AABC activities include joint projects with the Smithsonian, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the University of Alabama, and Auburn University. The AABC also developed a Strategic Habitat Program for the Mobile River Basin in cooperation with the FWS, the Geological Survey of Alabama, and the Alabama Clean Water Partnership. This is an effort to gather data and promote habitat recovery efforts in critical watersheds within the Mobile River Basin. There are 22 separate watersheds outlined in the program.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama's natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit, .