For Immediate Release, October 30, 2023
Will Harlan, Center for Biological Diversity, (828) 230-6818, WHarlan@biologicaldiversity.org
Rare Alabama Snail Proposed for Endangered Species Protections
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— Following seven years of advocacy by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect the oblong rocksnail as endangered. The rocksnail was previously considered extinct until 2011, and today only one small population in Alabama remains.
The oblong rocksnail is endemic to the Cahaba River, which flows 180 miles from metropolitan Birmingham through central Alabama. Today the rocksnails only inhabit five miles of river. The Service determined that designating critical habitat was prudent but decided to delay designation until an economic impact study is completed.
“I’m so relieved that we have a second chance to save this unique snail,” said Will Harlan, a senior scientist at the Center. “We almost lost the little oblong rocksnail forever. We can prevent it from going extinct and improve the health of the Cahaba River which it needs to survive.”
The rare snail was nearly driven extinct in the last century due to water pollution and habitat degradation. The species had not been seen for 70 years and was declared extinct in 2000 until it was rediscovered in 2011.
“This is an exciting day,” said Dr. Myra Crawford, executive director of the Cahaba Riverkeeper. “We are delighted to support the protection of this re-emerging species in the Cahaba River.”
The oblong rocksnails live downstream from municipal wastewater facilities, industrial facilities and coal mines which add metals, hydrocarbons, pesticides and other potentially harmful contaminants to the Cahaba River.
Two major oil and gas transmission lines cross the Cahaba River near known oblong rocksnail habitat. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has designated this portion of the Cahaba River as a high-risk area if there are leaks or spills of hazardous pollutants.
Oblong rocksnails are also threatened by climate change. During droughts, nearly all the flow of the Cahaba River can disappear. During floods, wastewater spills into the Cahaba and exposes oblong rocksnails to even more toxic contaminants.
In 2016 the Center petitioned to protect the oblong rocksnail under the Endangered Species Act. Oblong rocksnails are nickel-sized freshwater snails that keep rivers clean by grazing on algae and they serve as food sources for fish and crayfish. Underneath their brown-striped shells, oblong rocksnails have bright yellow bodies with black bands. They shelter beneath flat boulders and graze on algae in clean, silt-free rivers.
The Cahaba River is the longest free-flowing river in Alabama and is one of the most biologically diverse in the country. It supports 12 threatened and endangered species.
“Safeguarding the oblong rocksnail will also help protect drinking water for Alabamans and some of the most important aquatic diversity on the planet,” says Harlan. “By protecting this snail, we’re creating a healthier future for humans, too.”
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.