Etheostoma okaloosae | Okaloosa Darter
Photo credit - Derek Wheaton
The Okaloosa darter is a small, elongate, slightly compressed darter, with adults ranging in size from 27-49 millimeters standard length. Its preferred habitat is in the margins of clear flowing streams among the vegetation and woody debris. It is only found in six stream systems located in the lower portions of Okaloosa and Walton counties in northwest Florida. Its entire range totals only 242.8 stream miles.
The Okaloosa darter was added to the endangered species list in 1973 due to its small range and the suspected severe impacts to the population as a result of historical land use practices which caused a decline to as little as 1,500 individuals. Threats to the population such as artificial impoundments and habitat degradation caused by erosion and siltation are among the most important reasons for its endangered status. More than 98.7% of the habitat occupied by the darter is located on Eglin Air Force Base (Eglin) in northwest Florida. Eglin Air Force Base environmental managers along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been at work to reduce land use impacts and rehab the impaired streams for more than 15 years. The remaining darter habitat is in the surrounding developed areas of Niceville and Valparaiso where management, habitat preservation and habitat improvement has historically been more difficult.
Through the habitat improvement efforts and population monitoring of the darter by Eglin’s natural resource managers along with the Service and its partners at Loyola University and the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, FL, the population of darters on Eglin has improved dramatically in the recent past. The Service has made great strides in achieving recovery actions detailed in the recovery plan (1981) which led to the recommendation for downlisting the darter from endangered to threatened status in 2010. There are still recovery actions that have to be met in order to remove the species from the endangered species list, however, this is a great achievement for the managers working to protect the Okaloosa darter. (*information from FWS webpage)
Conservation Fisheries started working with the Okaloosa Darter in 2018 to help mitigate damage done to the Turkey Creek population when a bridge construction caused a major siltation event. CFI added the Toms Creek population after a solar construction job created a possible loss of fish. As of 2021 CFI has produced over 800 Okaloosa Darters that have been returned Turkey Creek and 500 fish that have been returned to Toms Creek.