provides the most diversity, with nearly 50 fish, four mussel and seven crayfish species represented. The historic vegetation consisted of bottomland forest, swamps and marshes.
The Ozark Highlands Subregion, which contains many different landscapes and stream types, has the largest number of Aquatic COAs. Many of its 94 areas are publicly owned and are in relatively healthy condition.
A good example is the LaBarque Creek COA, which provides more than six miles of permanent flowing Ozark stream that supports more than 40 species of fish, including black bass and sunfish, and 10 mussel species. Its level of aquatic biodiversity and richness can be found nowhere closer to the St. Louis area. The LaBarque Creek watershed also supports one of the few sandstone landscapes in Missouri with much of its natural integrity still intact.
Another example in this subregion is the Little Niangua River COA. In addition to nearly 40 fish species, this COA is home to the Niangua darter, which is found only in Missouri. About nine mussel species and two crayfish species also are found there.
With the initial selection process complete, we now know what we have and where many of our best conservation opportunities exist.
The next step for successful, long-term conservation is for all local stakeholders (landowners, agencies, local governments, businesses, conservation groups, etc.) within a COA to voluntarily come together to plan how they want to conserve their aquatic resources for themselves and future generations.
The type of work necessary to conserve aquatic resources will vary from one COA to another, but stakeholders often face the following challenges:
- Controlling storm water and sediment erosion from the uplands to maintain or mimic a natural flow for the stream to support all stages (such as spawning) of the life cycle of each species
- Keeping floodplains open to handle flood water and provide nutrients to the stream
- Allowing a 100-foot-wide corridor of trees to grow along most streams to keep stream banks stable, provide stream habitat and shade the water to keep it cool
- Maintaining a natural, meandering stream channel to create the diverse, deep pool and shallow riffle habitat necessary for aquatic life
- Providing water treatment facilities as needed to protect water quality and prevent excessive nutrients and other pollutants from entering the stream
- Monitoring the aquatic life and habitat of COAs and the successes and failures of conservation projects; such monitoring allows continual evaluation and refinement of conservation efforts.
Local, dedicated and intelligent tinkering will help conserve these special ecosystems in Aquatic Conservation Opportunity Areas and preserve the great diversity of Missouri’s aquatic treasures. It’s been said that diversity is the spice of life, but when it comes to our aquatic resources, diversity is the main ingredient.