A tiny fish, on the verge of extinction, is at the centre of the global conflict between nature and humankind - and is set to become symbolic of the problem that is human domination of the planet at the expense of all other species.
It might appear to be insignificant and even dull, but the Spring Pygmy Sunfish has become a major player in the battle between nature and human development. Confined to a small section of Beaverdam Creek in Huntsville, Alabama, the tiny fish is classified as 'critically endangered' and on the very brink of extinction - but its habitat is threatened by the construction of a massive 2,400-acre car manufacturing plant which could completely wipe out the last remaining population of this little creature from the planet.
The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a law suit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who had at one point maintained that there was "no legal requirement to stop the project". Now the agency has finally agreed to designate the area as a critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act and in doing so has identified that the river system is 'essential to the conservation of an endangered species and may require special management and protection'.
But the fight is by no means over.
The Center for Biological Diversity and nonprofit organisation Tennessee Riverkeeper have filed notices of intent to sue the city of Huntsville and car manufacturer Mazda Toyota under the Endangered Species Act. According to the CBD, a lawsuit may be necessary because Mazda Toyota and Huntsville have failed to obtain a permit from the FWS that would allow it to build in the sunfish’s habitat.
Mazda are claiming that they do care about the plight of the fish. A spokesperson for the company told the local press that “throughout the planning and design of this project, we continue....to ensure that the necessary protections are in place,” she said. “Mazda and Toyota continue to make environmental preservation a priority, and we are committed to developing the property sustainably.”
The whole sorry matter is polarising opinion between conservationists - who suggest that knowingly forcing a species into extinction is unthinkable - and those who consider that a tiny fish is worth sacrificing in the name of 'progress'.
And, unfortunately, comments in the local US press suggest that there is little public concern for the plight of a species on the brink of extinction:-
"These tree hugging bunny lovers are out of hand"
"A donation will be made and work will continue. It's how the environmentalists get paid."
"What unique contribution does this specific fish provide to the environment?"
With opinions like those is there any hope at all of saving threatened wildlife?
Some might argue that the very existence of automobiles has contributed hugely to the ill health of the planet and yet still we put cars and industrial development before nature.
It's a contradiction that I find very challenging. On one hand we have big companies desperately jumping on to the green bandwagon of environmental protest, publicly parading their faux green ideologies, while on the other hand they are willing to sacrifice forever an endangered species by eliminating its only remaining habitat for industrial development and financial gain.
It makes me very cynical about any claim, be it by government or industry, that they care a jot about the environment.
Now that we as a global community are fully aware of the threat that humans pose to practically every other life form on the planet, one might imagine that causing the extinction of another species would be considered criminal in the extreme. But Mazda and others seem indifferent to the debt we owe to our natural world and are pushing ahead with plans to develop the last known habitat of the Pygmy Sunfish, bulldozing the fish and its home into oblivion.
And all so that people can have more cars.
It is a sign of the times for sure. And a sad reflection on the human race. And it looks like the tiny, unassuming, but beautifully unique Pygmy Sunfish might become a symbol, like the Dodo, of mankind's total disregard for all of nature outside of himself.
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