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MAINE, UNITED STATES

PHASE 2: PENOBSCOT WATERSHED, MAINE

With decades of damming, toxic dumping into the rivers and a strain on the freshwater environments, populations of anadromous fish are on the decline as they haven’t been able to make the journey back to freshwater spawning grounds.

Maine holds more than 6,000 lakes and ponds and over 31,000 miles of rivers and streams. Freshwater is one of the most important natural elements for human and animal life, and yet, freshwater habitats are more impacted by humans than any other marine or terrestrial system across the globe. Only a small fraction of our planet’s water, less than one hundredth of one percent, actually exists as liquid freshwater.

Freshwater organisms are among the most diverse groups of species in the world. Despite their importance and richness, they are some the most endangered species on the planet. In North America, the projected mean future extinction rate for freshwater animals is five times greater than that for terrestrial animals and three times the rate for coastal marine mammals. Living in fresh water, they are confined to the banks of the rivers or lakes, and if there is a dam or toxic pollution, there are limited alternatives. Because of this, these freshwater species, from snails to cray fish to freshwater mussels, are most in peril.

Anadromous fish—such as the Atlantic salmon—migrate from the sea into freshwater rivers to spawn. These fish, prized as a human food source, depend on the rivers as migration corridors. With decades of damming, toxic dumping into the rivers and a strain on the freshwater environments, populations of anadromous fish are on the decline as they haven’t been able to make the journey back to freshwater spawning grounds.

The United States has a large role to play in freshwater conservation as North America is the center of biodiversity with the largest diversity of freshwater species anywhere on the globe. Although some conservation efforts are currently in place and a sublet resurgence is occurring for certain freshwater species, protecting the freshwater biodiversity is essential, especially in the context of global climate change and increasing human demands. 70 Degrees West will turn a lens on unique freshwater habitats that must be preserved.