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The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute has launched a new online database of scientific records and photos of more than 400 native fishes. Described by the Institute as a “Facebook for Fish,” this resource is now available to scientists, students and the general public.
Officially called the Freshwater Information Network (we actually like the Facebook title), with a few clicks at https://tnacifin.com, anyone can discover which species live near them in more than 75 watersheds in eight states, including the Black Warrior, Cahaba and Coosa watersheds in the Birmingham area.
“When it comes to inspiring others to protect the Southeast’s underwater rainforest, lack of awareness is a serious problem,” says Dr. Bernie Kuhajda, the science program manager at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute and former University of Alabama biologist.
“It’s hard to have a conservation mindset about aquatic animals if you don’t know anything about them, especially where they live,” he says. “We hope that once people learn about the cool things living in their backyard — or close by — they’ll become more interested in helping protect them.”
The database covers the biologically rich Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mobile drainage basins. This tiny region is home to 46 percent of the fish species found in the United and Canada, even though the area is just 1.4 percent of that vast landmass.
A teaching tool
Mike Howell, Professor Emeritus in Biology from Samford University who discovered the rare Watercress darter in Jefferson County recognized the opportunity to use the new website as an innovative teaching tool.
“Unlike students years ago, today’s students, from elementary school through college, have extraordinary opportunities to participate in field experiences as their teachers introduce them to the aquatic ecosystem and the wide variety of fishes and macroinvertebrates that live there. Many want to know more about the fishes that are captured in their nets. Fortunately, an exciting database is available for them to learn all about the biology of each fish that catches their imagination.”
Howell added, “This innovative approach is a significant leap in teaching today’s (and future) students about our awesome heritage of freshwater fishes and how they live. An additional bonus is that students intuitively grasp concepts that deal with water quality and its importance in the maintenance of our fishes and their fragile ecosystems.”
For scientists, the network offers the means to keep track of freshwater science throughout the region. By knowing where research and conservation work is occurring, Southeastern academics are able to make the best use of the limited resources available to study and protect species in the region, Kuhajda says.
“The long-term game is to not only have better science but, even more importantly, better conservation of our aquatic resources,” he says. “The sooner you know where things are or where populations are declining, the sooner you can pull the fire alarm and raise awareness so people can rally and address a bad situation,” concluded Kuhajda.
Join Facebook for Fish today
Explore the southeast version of “Facebook for Fish” today.
WARNING: it is addictive. Like Facebook, you may never leave the site.
Visit the Freshwater Information Network at https://tnacifin.com.