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Underwater Rainforests of Life: Stories of Southeastern Biodiversity (with. Dr. Anna George, Tennessee Aquarium)

December 20, 2021
Tangerine Darter from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park


The rivers and streams of the southeastern United States feature astounding biodiversity, warranting the nickname of “underwater rainforests” of life. From the colorful tangerine darter to the charismatic river chub and the prehistoric sturgeon, you can find a little bit of everything in our waterways. Yet we also know these species are threatened by the regular culprits of water pollution, habitat alteration, invasive species, and overfishing. In this episode of River Talks, we explore the stories of these underwater rainforests with Dr. Anna George the Vice President of Conservation Science and Education at the Tennessee Aquarium. The Tennessee Aquarium connects people to nature with a particular focus on celebrating, preserving, and restoring biodiversity in the southeast.

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About Dr. Anna George:

Dr. Anna George, Vice President of Conservation Science and Education at the Tennessee Aquarium, was lucky to discover her love for water early in life, on a 7th grade field trip to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. From that point on, her goal was to get underwater to hang out with fish as often as possible. During her undergraduate and graduate coursework in biology, she worked in both freshwater and marine systems to study the conservation, ecology, and evolution of fishes. Since joining the Aquarium in 2006, she has led research and education initiatives in biodiversity studies, species reintroduction, and habitat restoration to help conserve the incredible animals that live in the rivers and streams of the southeastern United States. Her enthusiasm for teaching everyone – scientists and non-scientists alike – about these river animals reflects her passion for protecting our own backyard. Anna has taught at Franklin & Marshall College, Mountain Lake Biological Station, the University of the South, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She has served on the Advisory Council for Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and the Board of Directors for Crabtree Farms.

About the Tennessee Aquarium:

The mission of the Tennessee Aquarium is to connect people with nature and empower them to make informed decisions about water and wildlife. They celebrate the rich biodiversity of the Southeast through their exhibits and are actively engaged in preserving and restoring that biodiversity through work in the field. The Aquarium’s research arm, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, has a focused expertise in restoring freshwater ecosystems and helping people appreciate the need for environmental health in our region.

In this podcast:

  • Why the rivers and streams of the southeast considered “underwater rainforests”.
  • The Tennessee Aquarium’s long-term work to reestablish populations of lake sturgeon, Appalachian Brook Trout, and the Barren’s Top Minnow in Tennessee. 
  • The importance of developing regional conservation plans for southeastern waterways.
  • Recent good news and bad news about endangered species in Tennessee.
  • Easy ways to protect water starting at home.
  • Plus, highlights of southeastern biodiversity like the tangerine darter, hellbenders, freshwater mussels, and more!
Learn more about the resources mentioned in this episode:

Photo: Gavin Ridley, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons