PERRY COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - There’s good news for a rare, endangered fish species which is found only in caves in Perry county, Missouri.
The Missouri Department of Conservation says the population is back to at a stable level, and their rescue efforts are also benefiting the rest of the community.
Fisheries management biologist Jason Crites with the Southeast Region of MDC says it’s difficult to get a precise number, but their data from studies in the last ten years shows that the cave fish population has been staying steady.
Before that time, Crites says grotto sculpin were dying off in some underground caves in Perry County that had polluted water.
“Over the years we’ve seen it recolonize, so that is a good thing. We are seeing fish come back to those areas and using those areas. Recently with some of the research we are doing we’ve found nesting sites which was very awesome to see. It definitely gives you a lot of hope in that there is a chance that we can recover the species."”
Crites says their main goal is to continue improving water quality in the caves which helps not only grotto sculpin survive but also benefits all living things.
“We want to make sure the water that is in the area is going to be healthy for landowners to use, healthy for their livestock to drink from,” Crites said. “It could all tie back to economics too. If we have impaired water it takes more money to treat that water to try to remove those contaminants of pollutants for us to use.”
Crites says the two most common contaminants in waterways in Perry County are E-Coli from both human and animal feces and atrazine, which is a common compound in many herbicide products used on farms.
“We really want to limit the impact on our environment," said Frank Wideman, who is a natural resource engineer for the University of Missouri Extension office in Perry county.
Wideman says he works with farmers on safety, community preparedness, and environmental issues.
He has been encouraging farmers in the area to clean out trash from sink holes and do other things to reduce the runoff of chemicals into caves.
“We are talking about cover crops, about no-till operations, and putting buffers around a sink hole system. They are planting grass and other plants that set the farm operation away from the sinkhole a little bit," Wideman said. “By doing a better job in our cropping systems, with handling our home sewage, and managing our sink holes we can do good job of taking care of the total environment.”
Crites says this long-term effort could actually increase the number of grotto sculpin, and also protect perry county’s underground water supplies for future generations.