For Immediate Release, June 30, 2021

Contact:

Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

Florida Freshwater Mussel Threatened by Phosphate Mine Receives 190 Miles of Lifesaving Critical Habitat

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— In response to several lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 190 miles of stream channels as critical habitat for the Suwannee moccasinshell, a freshwater mussel found only in north Florida. The moccasinshell’s habitat in the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers has been harmed by pollution and reduced water flows and is now threatened by a proposed phosphate mine in Bradford and Union counties.

“This designated critical habitat should help put the mussel back on the path to recovery,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “Florida’s waterways and the critters that rely on them need us to start making their health and survival a priority.”

The moccasinshell was feared extinct but rediscovered in the Suwannee, Upper Santa Fe and Withlacoochee rivers. The Center filed a scientific petition in 2010 to list the two-inch mollusk under the Endangered Species Act and followed up with several lawsuits to force decisions leading to the moccasinshell’s protection.

The Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. Species with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

The Suwannee moccasinshell attracts darter fish with a flashy, blue wiggling lure, then shoots its fertilized eggs into the fishes’ gills. The fish swims away, and the mussel’s offspring eventually drop off onto the river bottom. An increase in agricultural irrigation has lowered the Upper Floridan aquifer near the Suwannee River Basin, severely threatening the mussel by depleting and polluting the waters in the rivers that sustain it.

A proposed phosphate mine also threatens river habitat in Bradford and Union counties. The critical habitat directly protects some portions of the Upper Santa Fe River and New River that are within the proposed footprint for the mine. It will also indirectly protect upstream habitat that was not included in the critical habitat designation, since the Service anticipates upstream protection measures will be needed to adequately protect critical habitat downstream.

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Suwannee moccasinshell. Photo courtesy USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.