So, in my last post, I mentioned niblets of hope. Here’s another one.

The Bronx River, like most bodies of water in major urban areas, has historically had a little pollution problem, by which I mean it spent over two centuries being used as a giant open sewer and disposal unit for points from Westchester down to the harbor. Although it is by no means pristine, it’s made some progress since an agreement by the relevant communities to stop using it for sewage overflow…. which they finally figured out was a bad idea in 2006.

Compared to the vast sweep of the history of life on earth, the millions of years it takes to carve a river and evolve the critters to go in it, or even the amount of time it took to make the river as dirty as it was, 2006 is not very long ago. Still, it’s long enough for things to begin to look up. In fact, it was in 2007 that a beaver was spotted in the river, to much rejoicing throughout the city (one of the things that living in NYC has taught me is that many people have a fierce pride in the toughness of nature here, to go with their urban chutzpa. Look at the cult of Pale Male or the celebrated if ill-fated Manhattan Coyote for additional anecdata.) Now, alewives have also returned, albeit with a little help from the evil human overlords.

Alewives are a fish of the herring type. Like their more famous cousins the salmon, some populations are born in fresh water, swim out to sea for some schooling (heh), and then return to their natal streams to breed in their turn. Also like the salmon, this migration was once a magnificent phenomenon involving numberless shiny silver creatures traveling en masse, but humans, with their damming and harvesting and polluting and whatnot, fucked it up. In the case of the Bronx River, we fucked it up so bad that the alewives disappeared entirely. However, in 2006, 201 young alewives were moved from Connecticut to the Bronx. They spawned, and this year their offspring have returned.

Of course, all is not shiny. The river is dammed, and the dams, dating back as they do to the beginning of the Open Sewer Era, are historical structures. So fish ladders must be installed with a great deal of delicacy – but these ladders are needed to give the spawning fish access to less turbulent waters, and thus a better chance of success.

Still, if the fish can do it, maybe we can too.

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