The Nature Conservancy considers the Choctawhatchee to be a 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.
The Choctawhatchee contains a rich assemblage of both marine, estuarine and freshwater fish species. Surveys by Mettee and Bass demonstrate approximately 118 different species within the basin in these different habitats.
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 1950s. 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
Historically there are 25 species of freshwater mussel known from the Choctawhatchee (excluding the introduced Asiatic clam Corbicula). Only one, the Gulf Moccasinshell (Medionidus penicillatus), is considered endangered under the Endangered Species Act. However, five other species are considered candidate species, and one other is proposed as endangered. (GSA)
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)
Several species are considered rare and threatened due to their limited ranges. A report in ’93 considered 13 species to be in need of some form of protection. (GSA)
The Genetian pinkroot, Cooley’s meadowrue and fringed campion are endangered plants and may occur in the basin.
Other species of concern or federally protected species include: Loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle (bay area only), eastern indigo snake, Indiana and gray bat (status unknown) the Choctawhatchee beach mouse and Florida manatee (bay area only), the peregrine falcon and piping plover (migratory habitat), and the red-cockaded woodpecker. The red-cockaded woodpecker requires mature (60+years old) living pines for nest and roost cavities. Approximately 60% of the basin is in silviculture, posing a risk to future suitable habitats for these species. (Corps)
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.