The Choctawhatchee Coastal Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, numerous other national and international conservation organizations, as well as countless world renowned scientists, consider the Choctawhatchee to be a highly unique hot bed of biological diversity. There are over 2,000 small watersheds across the country, yet of these there are only 87 that stand out as hot spots, harboring 10 or more imperiled species. The Choctawhatchee represents two of these 87. The Pea River is 61st with 11 at-risk fish and mussel species and the Lower Choctawhatchee is 62nd also with 11 at-risk species. In both stream sections only 2 of these species are federally listed as threatened or endangered. The Upper Choctawhatchee Basin is also biologically significant with 7 at-risk species. (TNC)
These statistics rank the Choctawhatchee as an exceptionally significant river basin for the conservation of aquatic biodiversity.
Recent surveys of the Choctawhatchee and Pea Rivers (upstream of their junction in 1991) found 43 different species. (GSA) This survey was significant in that it found all four anadromous fish species (saltwater fish that must spawn in freshwater) known from the basin: the threatened Gulf Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus desotoi), Alabama shad (Alosa alabamae), Striped bass (Morone saxatalis) and Skipjack herring (Alosa chrysochloris). The Alabama shad had not been found in the basin since the 1950?s. Based on the survey results, Gulf sturgeon populations are believed to be low (Corps)
A type of darter believed to be a logperch (Percina caprodes), is found in the Choctawhatchee and the Escambia rivers but is more common in the Tennessee basin. This particular darter may represent an undescribed species. (Source?)
There are currently 2 fish species listed as threatened or endangered by the Endangered Species Act.
The Okaloosa darter (Etheostoma okaloosae), an endangered species, is found only in six small streams draining to the Choctawhatchee Bay in Florida. 94% of the darters habitat is within Eglin Air Force Base, the largest non-nuclear weapons testing facility in North America. It is endangered by competition with the brown darter, habitat degradation, soil erosion, and possible runoff contaminants from sewage sprayfields, pesticides and possible contaminants from weapons testing areas. (Corps)(US FWS)
The Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus desotoi), a threatened species, is found in the Choctawhatchee because of the lack of impoundments. This fish migrates between rivers and the sea to spawn like a salmon, so it needs this free flowing river for its survival.
Gamefishes are abundant in the system and include the warmouth, several species of sunfish, largemouth bass, spotted and longnose gar, bowfin, blacktail redhorse, and the spotted and highfin sucker. (Corps)
Fish status in Choctawhatchee River Basin - Total species?118??
Recent surveys between 1998-2000 found 21 species including an extremely rare specimen, the Southern kidneyshell (Ptychobranchus jonesi). Twenty species were found in the Pea and seventeen in the Choctawhatchee (including one not found in the Pea), for a total of 21. (GSA)
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker(Campephilus principalis), was considered extinct for many years until a series of possible sightings beginning in 1999. It is currently officially listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) after being upgraded from extinct in 2000. In September 2006, new claims that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker may not be extinct were released by a research group consisting of members from Auburn University in Alabama and the University of Windsor in Ontario. Dr. Geoff Hill of Auburn University and Dr. Daniel Mennill of the University of Windsor have revealed a collection of evidence that the birds may still exist in the cypress swamps of the Florida panhandle. Their evidence includes 14 sightings of the birds and 300 recordings of sounds that can be attributed to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but also includes tell-tale foraging signs and appropriately sized tree nest cavities (Hill et al., 2006).
Florida's largest population of beaver live along the river and its tributaries. (web site)
For complete species inventory see Tables in 92 Corps report or 91 GSA.