First discovered in 1983 in a handful
of locations in middle Tennessee, this rare fish almost disappeared
forever less than 10 years later. The Barrens topminnow was
surviving in just two locations. “This fish by all means qualifies
to be protected by the Endangered Species Act,” Hamilton
said. But instead of federally listing the fish, officials
decided to try working with area landowners to protect the
habitat and begin an unprecedented restoration pilot project
to save the Barrens topminnow.
Tenn. (April 29, 2008) - In a cool spring-fed Tennessee
stream, flashes of color dance in the sunlight as
dozens of Barrens topminnows dart just below the
surface. “If you live in the area, when you
walk up to the creek these are the first fish that
you see,” said Matt Hamilton, senior aquarist
at the Tennessee Aquarium. “The males have
a brilliant iridescent blue that’s beautiful
Growing only to four inches
in length, the Barrens topminnow is a tiny fish with
a story almost as colorful as its scales.
Instead of restricting water
and land use, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials entered into
cooperative agreements with local landowners to identify
suitable habitat for the fish and protect those areas. In
some cases that meant providing fencing to keep cattle out
of sensitive areas, or paving streambeds for cattle crossings.
In other cases it meant helping develop alternative water
sources so local farmers could still water their livestock
without degrading the habitat for the fish.
an overwhelming response by local residents who now embrace
this conservation effort taking place in their backyards. “During last summer’s
drought one landowner took a garden hose and pumped water
from one spring without minnows to one with minnows that
was drying up.”
The Tennessee Aquarium began raising
Barrens topminnows for the restoration project in 1998 along
with partners from Conservation Fisheries, Inc., Tennessee
Technological University, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Matt Hamilton works
at the Aquarium throughout the year culturing Barrens topminnows
for reintroduction into the headwaters of the Elk, Duck and
Caney Fork Rivers in Tennessee. “We’re probably halfway to the
goal of having 15 sites with viable populations. That means
finding natural reproduction and dispersing of Barrens
topminnows away from the release sites,” Hamilton
Of the nearly 19,000 fish released through the program,
9,000 have been raised by the Tennessee Aquarium. Another
400 Aquarium cultured fish are scheduled to be reintroduced
to the waters of Franklin, Coffee and Cannon Counties this
Anyone wishing to have a close encounter
with Barrens topminnows can view them on level two of the
River Journey building across from the first Nickajack Lake
Hamilton hopes everyone who sees these
colorful creatures will be inspired by their story of being
saved from extinction. “They
are beautiful fish,” Hamilton said with a smile.
The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and
appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $19.95 per
adult and $12.95 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased
helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D
Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are
$8.50 per adult and $6.00 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo
tickets are $25.95 for adults and $17.95 for children.
Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org
or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on
the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit
organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas,
the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities.
Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call
267-FISH to join.