Over the past two years, a group of Salmon School partners have worked together to develop the conceptual basis of the COP26 installation. Here are their stories:
ENVIRONMENTAL DNA MAPPING
This installation is known as Salmon School for a reason. Its function is to allow us to observe the environment, collect information and learn. By observing we become aware, and by learning we face challenges with evidence to inform decisions. The climate change crisis and the loss of biodiversity is an enormous challenge, and education through citizen science activities will be a key tool to face that challenge and motivate action.
Environmental DNA is the “dust” of species. We can filter that signal non-intrusively from a water sample to get a picture of what species live in those habitats. From that dust, we can create a picture, a map of life, painted with natural history knowledge.
However, the key to unlocking that knowledge is a reference library that matches DNA sequences to species names. The Smithsonian is working to ensure that a global database of species exists to translate eDNA results. With that global biodiversity Rosetta Stone, anyone, anywhere will be able to take part in a school of learning. As an institution dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge, the Smithsonian is a global leader in providing critical information for Earth resilience and sustainability in the face of global change.
Wild salmon are indicators of healthy ecosystems, and their return to previously uninhabitable waterways demonstrates the power of positive change and encourages stewardship to ensure cold, clean water. The search for salmon, using eDNA, from their natal headwaters to the ocean and back, reveals not just the salmon, but an entire, wondrous palette of diverse, interconnected life that sustains these ecosystems. The Smithsonian is excited to be working with Salmon School to engage communities to participate, learn and take action as a catalyst of change for a better, more sustainable future for all.
CLYDE RIVER FOUNDATION
SALMON RETURN TO THE CLYDE
The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is located at the Scottish Exhibition Centre which sits on the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow. Like many other rivers around the world, the Clyde was poisoned for more than a century by the byproducts of industry. The river cleaned up following the decline of polluting industries, better domestic wastewater treatment arrangements, the enactment of pollution control legislation from the 1950s onwards bringing increased dissolved oxygen levels to the river and estuary. The river now has cold, clean water flowing between its banks. This provides the base habitat for salmon to populate most of the accessible parts of the river system.
Salmon started to return to the Clyde in large numbers in the early 1980s, having been functionally extinct for a century. Now, with most heavy industry gone, and Glasgow reconceived as a centre for culture and tourism, the Clyde is once again populated with salmon and many other wildlife species which had previously been threatened.
"Things have improved dramatically because the baseline was zero in 1980 and you can only go one way from there," said Willie Yeomans, Catchment Manager at the Clyde River Foundation. "The whole lower Clyde and tributaries are recovering rivers."
This story has been repeated on many rivers throughout the world. With greater effort and alignment with the goals of COP26, other rivers could flow again with cold, clean water, allowing their ecosystems to thrive once more.
MEASURING THE PULSE
OF WILD SALMON
The Salmon School installation invites us to reflect on how we have managed our planet’s resources. And that relationship with nature is at the heart of the idea behind Salmon Nation in the Pacific North-West.
Salmon Nation extends from North California to the North Slope of Alaska. But it is far more than a geographical area. In simple terms, it is a “nature state”, shaped by natural boundaries, rather than the usual distinctions of a nation state. Its boundaries are defined by the ancient, annual runs of Pacific salmon.
It is one of the most creative, diverse, rich, and beautiful bioregions on earth. And the interconnections of natural, social, and financial wellbeing have been known by its indigenous peoples for millennia. Salmon Nation’s aim is to do everything possible to improve that sense of wellbeing. In practical terms, Salmon Nation identifies how to best invest time, energy, and money towards building a region where people, culture and nature all thrive.
The organisation believes that measuring the pulse of wild salmon is one of the surest ways to measure the health of all our living systems, humans included.
DIVERSE PROGRAMS WITH
A COMMON GOAL
Salmon conservation organisations and NGOs from around the world have coalesced around the Salmon School for COP26.
Salmon School champions the idea that the habitats salmon occupy are the very environments we must look after to help resolve the climate change and biodiversity crisis. A focus on salmon can help initiate change to provide the cold, clean water that is so critical to Earth’s ecosystems and communities. Our NGOs are already hard at work tackling the problems salmon face and contributing directly to finding climate change solutions.
The genesis of the wild salmon NGO community around Salmon School at COP26 has been remarkable. The project has created a global coalition of NGOs who are now fully engaged and are actively looking for corporate and government partners to help us tackle the challenges we all face. Our collective energy will continue long after the summit.
JOIN THE SCHOOL
Salmon School is a unique human ecosystem made up of diverse stakeholders all working in concert to ensure wild salmon and the rivers they call home are here and healthy for generations to come. We’re actively seeking politicians, philanthropists, NGOs, educators, and Indigenous people concerned about our salmon to join Salmon School and help us advance this important work.