The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute conserves native aquatic animals and their habitats through scientific research, ecosystem restoration, education programs, and public outreach.
The seeds of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute began in 1996 when the Tennessee Aquarium formed the Southeast Aquatic Research Institute, a collaborative, non-profit partnership with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Tennessee River Gorge Trust. The first major project undertaken by the Institute was the publication of Aquatic Fauna in Peril: The Southeastern Perspective, edited by George Benz, the first Director, and David Collins, the Curator of Forests at the Aquarium. This volume provided historical perspectives of the major aquatic animal groups found in the region, detailing what is known about their current conservation status.
The Southeast has the largest diversity of freshwater snails in the world. But that status is quickly changing. The effects are most visible in the Coosa River Basin, where 41 out of the 72 documented freshwater mollusk extinctions in North America have occurred. Our second director, Paul Johnson, specialized in mollusk recovery efforts. Under his leadership, we restored over 150,000 imperiled mussels and snails to their native homes in the Mobile and Tennessee rivers. During this time, we also collaborated with our founding partners on a study to determine best monitoring practices for the Tennessee River Gorge turtle assemblage.
Tennessee has the richest freshwater fauna of any state in the United States with over 320 fish species living in our waters. Sadly, 87 of these species are considered endangered, threatened or of special management concern. In 2006, Anna George joined TNACI as the third director. She is an ichthyologist whose research focus is in population genetics of freshwater fishes. Under her direction, TNACI has developed many research projects investigating population health and evolutionary pathways for southeastern fish. In addition to research, TNACI is also involved in habitat assessments and restoration projects as well as monitoring efforts for imperiled species.
In 2009, we became the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute to emphasize our mission to protect the aquatic species and habitats in our region. After 13 years at a facility in Cohutta, Georgia, we relocated our operations to Chattanooga in the summer of 2011.
Dr. Anna George
Director and Chief Research Scientist
Dr. Anna George was lucky to discover her love for water early in life, on a 7th grade field trip to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. From that point on, her goal was to get underwater to study fish. During her B.A. in Biology from the University of Virginia and Ph.D. in Biology from Saint Louis University, she worked in both freshwater and marine systems to study the conservation, ecology, and evolution of fishes. Since joining the TNACI staff in 2006, she has led research initiatives in habitat restoration, species reintroduction, and conservation genetics that mirror her passion for collaborative conservation problem-solving. Prior to working at TNACI, she taught at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and currently teaches Environmental Education at the University of the South. She serves on the Advisory Council for Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, the Board of Directors for Crabtree Farms, and the Advisory Committee of the Southeastern Fishes Council.
Dr. Josh Ennen
Aquatic Conservation Biologist
Dr. Josh Ennen began collaborating with TNACI in September 2013 and permanently joined the staff in April 2014. In his career, Josh has been a visiting professor of Biology at Maryville College and a Wildlife Biologist for U. S. Geological Survey. His research has focused mainly on the ecology and conservation of aquatic and terrestrial turtles. In 2010, he described a new freshwater turtle species, Pearl River Map Turtle (Graptemys pearlensis), from Mississippi and Louisiana. While with the U.S. Geological Survey, Josh’s research focused on the impacts of utility-scale renewable energy developments on terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates. Josh holds a B.A. in Biology from Maryville College, a M.S. in Biology from Austin Peay State University, and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Dr. Bernie Kuhajda
Aquatic Conservation Biologist
Bernie Kuhajda joined the TNACI staff as the newest biologist in May 2012 after 25 years at the University of Alabama, where he has managed a museum collection of 1 million specimens of preserved fishes from all around the world. Though his studies of fishes and other aquatic organisms have taken him around the United States, Mexico, and Central Asia, his particular expertise is surveying and monitoring threatened and endangered species from aquatic systems in the Southeast, in part to help evaluate the need and effectiveness of conservation programs. Bernie holds a B.A. in Chemistry and a B.S. and M.S. in Zoology from Southern Illinois University and a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Alabama. Bernie also teaches weekend courses at the University of Alabama Gadsden Campus every spring semester on aspects of aquatic biodiversity and conservation.
Kathlina Alford began working as an Aquarist at the Tennessee Aquarium 2004 and joined TNACI as a Conservation Associate in September of 2011. She oversees husbandry and captive propagation programs at TNACI as well as doing work in the genetics laboratory. Kathlina holds a B.S. in Biology from Tennessee Tech University and a M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. For her M.S. research, Kathlina examined the population genetics of the Flame Chub, Hemitremia flammea, an imperiled freshwater minnow.
Sarah joined the TNACI staff in May 2014 as our GIS (Geographic Information Systems) analyst. She primarily works on our Freshwater Information Network (FIN), an online repository of freshwater knowledge that displays museum collection records and field surveys of aquatic animals in the southeast, eventually leading to an interactive webpage powered by our partners at Tennessee Tech University. Sarah holds a M.S. in Biology from Georgia College and State University, where she also received her B.S. in Environmental Sciences. For her M.S. research, Sarah studied the ecology of Cambarus truncatus, the Oconee Burrowing Crayfish, a threatened species of burrowing crayfish.
Dr. David Neely
Dave has worked on the evolution and ecology of multiple groups of freshwater fishes from across North and South America, Europe, and Asia. A skilled field biologist, he assists with TNACI research on rare, threatened, and endangered species across the southeastern U.S. Dave has a B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Management and a M.S. in Aquatic Ecology and Conservation Biology from Frostburg State University, and a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Alabama. He also currently teaches at the University of the South and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute
201 Chestnut Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402-1014