Stream Conservation

Local Stream Conservation

Working Locally & Protecting Homes

Nashville Zoo supports numerous conservation organizations and initiatives across the globe, but is also constantly working on protecting an entire habitat right in our backyard.

A tributary of Mill Creek called the Cathy Jo Branch runs directly through the Zoo’s property and is home to many vertebrates and invertebrates including a small population of the Nashville crayfish. Because of the stream’s extremely diverse ecosystem, the Zoo uses this stream for research and as a teaching tool for education programs throughout the year.

camper holding a crayfish

Threats to our waterways

Tennessee has some of the most aquatic diversity of any state in the U.S. but this is increasingly threatened by human development and pollution, particularly as Nashville’s population grows.

”Silt and the agricultural and other contaminants bound to it are probably the most damaging pollutant that currently enters streams and rivers in the U.S.,” said Dale McGinnity, Nashville Zoo Ectotherm Curator. “Improper erosion control at construction sites, overgrazing, tilled farm soil and other issues can all lead to large amounts of silt entering streams during rain events.”

In addition to human development, human pollution can have a huge impact as well. The Tennessee River was recently found full of microplastic, which is an issue plaguing waterways worldwide.

plastic bottle in a rocky pond

Here, at Nashville Zoo

Zoo staff have been monitoring Nashville crayfish populations for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2013. In addition, staff consistently monitor the Zoo’s creek and surrounding land for ways to improve the conditions and eliminate pollution from entering the stream primarily from stormwater runoff.

About 10 years ago, Nashville Zoo received a grant in collaboration with the Cumberland River Compact and Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. to help protect the Zoo’s stream. The grant funded a large project that helped manage stormwater runoff from a 116-acre watershed, which included many paved areas that during heavy rain would send a lot of stormwater and silt into our creek. A native prairie habitat with berms was created to slow down stormwater runoff and allow it to infiltrate into the ground instead of rushing into the creek.

In addition to the native prairie area, 20 bio-retention ponds on the Zoo’s property were implemented to help prevent water from rushing into the stream during large rain events, reduce sediment entering the stream and decrease flooding along the heavily developed Mill Creek watershed.

Two campers studying a stream

In 2017, the Zoo team collaborated on another grant with the Cumberland River Compact and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to remove two dams on Zoo grounds, transforming the stream into a free-flowing system and allowing aquatic wildlife, such as crayfish, small fish and other aquatic life to migrate upstream.

How You Can Help

Protecting our local waterways is vital. Even the smallest water system is important because all water eventually winds up in a large river, where cities acquire drinking water. You can help protect your local waterway by:

  • Picking up trash and other pollution before it makes it into a creek or other waterway.
  • Ensuring there is no exposed soil on your property and remembering that any pesticides or other pollutants that are left on the ground will be picked up with stormwater and will be deposited in a creek eventually.
  • If you live along the stream, make sure not to cut down grasses or plants near the edge of the stream and to leave as many trees as possible. Those trees and native plants hold the soil and help filter stormwater runoff.
Special Thanks to Stewards of the Stream
Advance Financial