Planning a visit to the Alabama River? Here’s your guide to its geography, climate, pollution threats, wildlife, and swim safety. Get to know the facts about this river before you take the plunge – learn what bodies of water that it flows into, the average temperature of its waters, possible contaminants, what kind of fish and creatures live in the Alabama River, and if swimming is safe for you and your family. With this information, you’ll be well-prepared to explore this natural wonder.
The Alabama River rises from the joining of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers at a point approximately 7 miles northeast of Montgomery, located in the southern region of Alabama. Flowing southwest from its source, the river stretches over 305 miles in length until it reaches the Mobile River at the Gulf of Mexico. Its width ranges from 50 to 200 yards, while its depth ranges from 3 to 40 feet.
The Alabama River region boasts a warm-temperate, humid climate all year round, making it an attractive destination for leisure activities such as swimming, tubing, and canoeing. Surrounding the river is relatively lowland or slightly rolling terrain dotted with pine, hardwood, and mixed forests. The gentle meander of the river and its steady warm temperature provide calming scenery and a pleasant experience to its visitors. The conservation group has identified the Coosa River, a tributary of the Alabama River, as the 5th most polluted river in the U.S. This is attributed to the impact of dams, industrial poultry waste, and sewage overflow. The Mobile River, which the Alabama River directly flows into, is also the 3rd most polluted in the U.S., in part due to toxic coal ash dumping. Subsequently, pollutants from the Coosa River can make their way downstream to the Alabama River, endangering its aquatic ecosystem and posing potential risks to human health. A report published by Environment America in 2022 reveals that South Carolina, Texas, and Alabama had more cancer-causing chemical releases in 2020 than any other states. Paper and pulp mills are primarily responsible for these emissions, with Alabama River Cellulose, situated along the lower Alabama River, being a notable discloser of cancer-causing toxins.
Aquatic creatures found in the Alabama River include largemouth bass, blue catfish, and gar. Semi-aquatic animals that use the river’s resources include snapping turtles, beaver, and river otters. Among the terrestrial animals that inhabit the area are white-tailed deer, coyote, and black bear. The endangered species discovered in the Alabama River include the Alabama red-bellied turtle and the Alabama sturgeon. Both of these creatures need our help for survival. We should do everything possible to limit disturbances and pollution in the waterway so that their populations can thrive. In addition to these threatened species, the Alabama River also harbors animals that can pose a potential danger to us humans, such as alligators and venomous snakes. While not hostile by nature, these animals should be treated with respect and caution. Knowing how to recognize the warning signs of these animals can help keep you safe.
The Alabama sturgeon needs urgent attention from the conservation community or its future is uncertain. In order to improve its prospects, more research must be conducted into natural threats such as habitat degradation and the impacts of pollution on their numbers. Additionally, the development of hatchery programs may provide a source of individuals for populations needing reintroduction. Ultimately, if the Alabama sturgeon is to recover from the brink of extinction, further investment of resources and public awareness campaigns will be essential in its survival. The Alabama sturgeon has a distinctive copper-red body, an elongated snout, and a small dorsal fin close to its caudal fin. This species of river sturgeon is the smallest of its kind, growing up to a maximum of just under three feet in length.
The northern cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) is a semi-aquatic and venomous species of snake endemic to the southeastern United States. It is also known as the water moccasin and can be found along the banks and in the waters of the Alabama River. These snakes mainly occur in swamps, wetlands, drainage, coastal plains, and river habitats. They are instantly recognizable by their thick, triangular-shaped head which is broader than their neck, and their dark tan, brown, or almost black body which features grey-black or dark brown crossbanding. From the snout, through the eye, and towards the neck, there is a wide dark brown band, bordered by a thin white stripe, giving the snake its common name of ‘cottonmouth.’ The northern cottonmouth typically grows between 30-48 inches in length. When hiking and recreating along the banks of the river, it’s best to avoid walking through tall grass or wood piles. Instead, be mindful of where you’re stepping. Most bites in the wild result from accidentally stepping on or far too close to a snake.
The Alabama map turtle is a medium-sized aquatic reptile native to all parts of the Alabama River. This species of the Graptemys genus is easily recognizable due to the unique keel running down the middle of its shell. This keel is often covered with spines, thus earning this species the nickname “sawback turtle.” For younger map turtles, this ridge is even more clearly defined and pronounced.
The common musk turtle is an aquatic reptile that can be found in the slow-moving streams, ponds, and wetlands of North America. Its size ranges from 3.5-11.5 inches long from tail to snout, with males typically measuring between 3.5-5 inches long and females usually reaching 5.5-11.5 inches. Its shell is a dull olive-brown with faint orange, yellow, and green markings. Juveniles are omnivorous, with a diet primarily composed of insects, aquatic snails, and aquatic plants such as duckweed. Adults are carnivorous, devouring mollusks, insects, and fish.
With a population of around 70,000, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) can be found throughout southern Alabama. In recent years, however, they have started moving northwards, likely due to effects of industrial civilization-induced climate change. They reside in countless bodies of water, such as coastal marshes, lakes, ponds, swamps, and rivers – including the Alabama River. An adult alligator can reach lengths of 6-16 feet and takes 10-12 years to reach maturity. Only recently, a massive 15-foot and 9-inch long alligator was caught from the same river, weighing a staggering 1,011.5 pounds. If cared for properly, these majestic creatures can live up to 50 years!
The American alligator’s diet is much more varied than that of juveniles, as adults can eat fish, mammals, birds, turtles, snakes, and amphibians. Juveniles, on the other hand, traditionally stick to consuming insects, small fish, and mollusks.
If you decide to take a dip in the Alabama River, it’s important to note that it is affected by industrial pollution, and as such, may not be safe to drink or swallow. In addition, there is a danger of encountering venomous snakes or alligators, so it’s important to stay alert and only enter the water if you’re a competent swimmer.