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Governor and Conservation Commissioner Announce Opening of Aquatic Biodiversity Center

May 09, 2006

Largest state-operated aquatic wildlife restoration program in the United States

Governor Riley

Trussville, Ala.–Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Barnett Lawley today announced the opening of the new $2 million Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center located in Marion, Ala. The Biodiversity Center houses the largest state aquatic wildlife restoration program in the United States.

Following a news conference, Gov. Riley, Commissioner Lawley and others released snails into the Cahaba River to help aid in clean water efforts.

Snails and mussels, which are also called mollusks, are considered nature's vacuum cleaner. Snails eat algae that can literally choke a river if left uncontrolled. Mussels remove bacteria in the water. The Biodiversity Center was created to restore millions of mollusks in areas where their numbers have dwindled.

"Through this revolutionary program, we are taking another step in cleaning up Alabama's water, and we're doing it naturally," said Gov. Riley. "By restoring millions of these snails and mussels, Alabamians will enjoy cleaner rivers, lakes and streams for years to come."

Program Uses Mollusks and Fish to Filter Water Naturally

The Biodiversity Center will both protect snail and mussel species and restore those species that are threatened with extinction. According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) 67 mollusk species have become extinct over the past 80 years. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 183 Alabama lakes and streams are considered troubled bodies of water–far fewer than Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi, but still a concern for state officials.

"Alabamians want clean water," said Lawley. "The Environmental Protection Agency and Alabama Department of Environmental Management have imposed clean water standards that must be met and that all Alabamians deserve. As a state agency, we've required sanitation devices on larger boats, but this is another major step toward cleaner water. For example, just one three-inch mussel can filter more than 12 gallons of water per day. So imagine what happens when you add hundreds of millions of snails and mussels to our rivers and streams."

The Biodiversity Center will first target the Coosa River at the Weiss Lake bypass in the Mobile River Basin because mollusk species in that basin are most at risk.

Federal and State Funds Made Biodiversity Center A Reality, Additional Funding Sought

In 2004, the ADCNR's Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries began efforts to establish an aquatic biodiversity center. The $2 million program is part of a five-year State Wildlife Grant split equally between federal and state funds.

Federal dollars provided for freshwater species recovery historically have been very minimal, and consequently few aquatic species come off the list because the funding isn't provided for their recovery.

"It isn't that we lack the ability to recover many of these species, but we have never before received funding for this type of project," said Stan Cook, chief of fisheries for ADCNR. Without serious efforts to promote recovery, future listing actions would have remained a very real possibility because Alabama has more freshwater species than any other state.

The ADCNR is seeking additional partnerships with state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, watershed recovery groups, universities, public utilities and corporations to advance the Center's efforts and provide further funding. Alabama Power Company, Bass Pro Shops and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have already committed to partnering with the ADCNR on this project.

Biodiversity Center Will Also Function As Research Center

While the Biodiversity Center is dedicated to restoring Alabama's mollusk populations, it will also serve as an important research center to come up with better ways to culture snails and mussels and return more of them to our rivers and streams. The more snails and mussels placed in the channel, the better they can help clean rivers and streams.

Each mussel reproduces by attaching its larvae to a host fish. After about four weeks, the juvenile mussel falls off the fish, and burrows into river and stream beds.

"Beyond these lifecycle questions, we want to focus on culturing snails and mussels to a larger size before their release to successfully keep them in Alabama's waterways doing the job they've always done," said Dr. Paul Johnson, program supervisor for the Biodiversity Center. Johnson is the former director of the Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute and joined the program last October.

U.S. Government Gave State of Alabama the Land and Facilities for the Center

The Biodiversity Center is located near Marion, Alabama in rural Perry County. The four-building complex sits on 36 acres near the Cahaba River and adjacent to the Marion State Fish Hatchery, Perry Lakes Park and The Nature Conservancy's Barton's Beach Preserve.

The facility includes three buildings with more than 7,500 square feet of space, a 4,300-square-foot administration building with office and laboratory space and approximately 30 acres of aquatic ponds.

Five full-time employees are currently working at the center. Four more will be added later.

The facility was operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Biological Resources Division as the Claude Harris National Aquaculture Research Center. In 1995, the USGS closed the facility, and the property was deeded to the State of Alabama from the U.S. Department of Interior in 1999.

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