Chattanooga, Tenn. (Aug 24, 2016) – The Tennessee River, with its vast network of tributaries, is one of North America’s most biologically diverse river systems. It’s home to more than 230 fishes, more than 100 freshwater mussels, and at least 74 species of crayfishes. And, within the Tennessee watershed live more than 150 turtles and more than 50 species of salamanders, including the giant Hellbender Salamander, which can grow over two feet long.
Unfortunately, a large number of these animals are so rare that they are listed as either threatened or endangered across the nearly 41,000 square mile river basin which includes parts of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
Well over 100 aquatic biologists, water quality specialists, public land managers, environmental planners, grassroots watershed association leaders, community organizers and a wide variety of other freshwater conservation professionals from seven states will gather at the Tennessee Aquarium August 30 - 31 for the 2nd Tennessee River Basin Biodiversity Network (TRBBN) Meeting. This joint effort, organized by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), with strong support by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Aquarium, is designed to create a network of practitioners, identify opportunities for collaboration and sharing data and resources, and initiate long-term collaborative planning to protect and improve aquatic biodiversity in the Tennessee River Basin.
“Two major groups will be convening,” said Dr. Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI). “One group is focused on freshwater science and management and the other is working on educational outreach and communications. The goal is to bring together the diverse stakeholders in the region who are working on conservation to set some shared goals and to develop a plan to meet those goals.”
The first day of this gathering will begin with a keynote address by David Whitehurst, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Resources at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. He has more than 41 years of experience as a fish and wildlife biologist and will deliver a presentation about the award-winning conservation work Virginia has accomplished in the Upper Tennessee River watershed.
A series of presentations, focused on raising awareness of TRBBN partners’ efforts, include topics in conservation planning, biodiversity research, and programs for watershed education. "TVA works with dozens of partners across the Tennessee River Valley to support efforts to maintain a healthy river system. The development of a structured network to enhance communication and collaboration between these partnerships across the region seemed to be the logical next step,” said Evan Crews, Senior Manager of Natural Resources for TVA. “ TVA recognizes that what is good for the River is good for the people of the Valley and supports our mission of service. This meeting is important, but the activities of these partnerships happen throughout the year, around the Valley, as a result of coming together – that’s what’s meaningful to our communities.”
In conjunction with the meeting, the partners will host the 2016 Tennessee River Celebration Awards Banquet. This celebration will recognize existing successes and dedicated efforts of river advocates (non-profit organizations, community groups, watershed partners) in the Tennessee River. Grants, funded by TVA, will be awarded in the following categories:
Education/Outreach – for an individual or organization that has excelled in communicating and educating the general public, students, and/or industry about the importance of aquatic biodiversity.
Management/Science – for an individual or organization that has developed partnerships, implemented projects, developed plans, and/or conducted scientific research in the Tennessee River Watershed which has had measureable impacts on protecting and enhancing aquatic habitat.
Last year, Jim Herrig, US Forest Service aquatic biologist, accepted the Education and Outreach Award for the Cherokee National Forest’s Snorkeling Program. This exemplary program, which began 16 years ago, has provided more than 6,000 people with an opportunity to get into the water to view the incredible aquatic diversity in forest streams. “This program is being replicated by at least four other organizations and gives everyone a “wow” factor which gets people’s attention,” said Crews. “This experience demonstrates to the public that clean water and abundant aquatic biodiversity are possible when the uplands are properly managed.”
Herrig has used the award to purchase additional equipment necessary to facilitate more programs and says the Tennessee River Basin Biodiversity Network helps bring resources together to achieve significant conservation goals and support new programs. “Our snorkeling program has continued to grow in popularity,” said Herrig. “This year we have led 24 guided trips for almost 500 people. The conservation award money is being used to get more underserved students out to the Cherokee National Forest to make them aware of the tremendous aquatic resources we have and get them involved in preserving those resources for future generations.”
The Cherokee National Forest Snorkeling Program was recently highlighted in a short film produced by Freshwaters Illustrated: https://vimeo.com/103358996