Endangered Species Designation Offers Diamond Darter a Chance to Shine On

The diamond darter (Crystallaria cincotta), a tiny fish that has faced serious threats, will now be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced late last month. The diamond darter’s protected status will take effect on August 26.

diamond darter
Diamond Darter. Photo by Conservation Fisheries, Inc.
Like its diamond namesake (the fish sparkles when it reflects light), the darter is rare and found only in areas where the conditions are just right to support it. Habitat loss, degraded water quality and other stresses over time have restricted the fish—once present in the southern Appalachians from Ohio to Tennessee—to a 22-mile stretch of West Virginia’s Elk River. This small population size, says the Fish and Wildlife Service, makes the species vulnerable to the effects of invasive species, loss of genetic fitness and catastrophic events, such as toxic spills or floods fueled by climate change.

It is an honor and a responsibility to have one of the rarest fish in the world surviving in one of our rivers,” says Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC), which advocated for listing the darter as endangered with critical habitat designation. An affiliate of National Wildlife Federation, WVRC is dedicated to protecting the quality of West Virginia’s water resources and striving to conserve and restore the state’s exceptional rivers and streams.

Recognized as one of the most ecologically diverse rivers in West Virginia—more than 100 species of fish and some 30 species of freshwater mussel call the waterway home—the Elk is also considered one of The Mountain State’s most vulnerable. Continued threats include insufficient wastewater treatment and natural resource extraction and development, says Kathleen Tyner, WVRC’s conservation and advocacy program manager. While she and her peers regard the federal listing and the safeguards such affords as welcome news for the diamond darter, WVRC has not slowed its own efforts to protect habitat for the fish and other species.

Birthplace of Rivers National Monument
Courtesy of www.birthplaceofrivers.org
Recently, for instance, the nonprofit urged its members to oppose the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed changes to the state’s Water Quality Standards rule. If adopted, the revisions would allow for significantly more pollution from the discharge of aluminum, which is toxic to aquatic life. WVRC is also active in the coalition of partners advocating for the establishment of Birthplace of Rivers National Monument in the Monongahela National Forest. The proposed monument is home to the headwaters of six rivers, including the Elk.

“As West Virginia celebrates 150 years of statehood, our congressional leaders have an opportunity to set aside some of the most special wild places in West Virginia for future generations, honoring a rich mountain culture deeply connected to the land,” says Tyner.

Find out more about the conservation efforts of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.