Saving rare cave fish could cost $4 million

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed protecting a rare cave-dwelling fish under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Grotto sculpin (Cottus sp.) is endemic to an area in southeast Missouri where it has a very limited range, living in and around five caves and one stream in the Bois Brule River drainage in Perry County.

Unfortunately its habitat is prone to contamination from groundwater pollution and biologists have documented two occasions where this has contributed to mass die-offs, severely affecting the already small population of the species.

The cost of saving the fish has been estimated to be anywhere between $140,000 to $4m over the next 18 years.

Scott Sattler, Perry County’s Economic Development Director, explained that the estimated cost for saving the sculpin varies so widely because the plans consider every solution, including current conservation efforts. At the moment, the county works towards maintaining 400 sinkholes to prevent groundwater pollution and sediment from harming these ecosystems. This includes planting buffers of trees and other plants around sinkholes to filter out pesticide and herbicide run-off and reduce soil erosion.

Grotto sculpins reach a maximum of 10cm/4" in length and little is known about their life cycle. A recent study suggests that juveniles spend their first season outside the caves, re-entering them at a size where they are unlikely to be eaten by the larger sculpins.

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