New Community-Based Monitoring Network Detects Urgent Messages of Change from Näätämö and Ponoi Rivers: Fish Death Conditions Possible, Restoration Measures Under Way

Traditional fishermen harvesting flounder in Sosnovka, Kola Peninsula.

Traditional fishermen harvesting flounder in Sosnovka, Kola Peninsula.

New Community-Based Monitoring Network Detects Urgent Messages of Change from Näätämö and Ponoi Rivers – Temperatures Record High and Fish Deaths Imminent but Ecological Restoration Offers Respite to Salmonid Fish.

Ponoi catchment is one of the last preserved wilderness areas in the European North.

Ponoi catchment is one of the last preserved wilderness areas in the European North.

‘Traditional Knowledge of Northern Waters 2018’ project focused on two iconic Arctic river basins in the Fennoscandian and Russian North – the Skolt Sámi home stream of Näätämö river flowing from Finland to the Barents Sea as well as Ponoi river on Kola Peninsula, Russia.

Weather data from Sosnovich station on the Kola coast points to rapid warming, post-1980. Data sets by Brie Van Dam, Snowchange

Weather data from Sosnovich station on the Kola coast points to rapid warming, post-1980. Data sets by Brie Van Dam, Snowchange

A third geographical area of the project was the coastal community of Sosnovka which is in close proximity to Ponoi.

Inland weather warming is also visible in the data sets from Kanevka, Central Ponoi. Data sets by Brie Van Dam, Snowchange

Inland weather warming is also visible in the data sets from Kanevka, Central Ponoi. Data sets by Brie Van Dam, Snowchange

Whitefish health and parasites were monitored in the Näätämö catchment area.

Whitefish health and parasites were monitored in the Näätämö catchment area.

Over 9,000 data items ranging from Indigenous knowledge and oral histories to weather data resulting back to 1863 were produced in the project. The main findings are:

  1.  Climate change is now an urgent reality that is affecting the health of both fish and ecosystems in Näätämö and Ponoi catchment areas as well as Sosnovka. Water temperatures are becoming dangerously warm and threat of fish deaths is real. Record warm spells triggered forest fires both in Finland and in Russia. Threats to salmonide fish, especially Arctic Char, is now imminent and their survival is at stake.
  2. Villages involved have living traditional knowledge and a willingness to observe, report and act on the results.A monitoring network is now in place and should be supported, long-term, to understand climate and ecological change in the basins both from science and traditional knowledge.
    Diatomic algal blooms were detected by Sámi co-researcher Juha Feodoroff (left) and water restoration specialist Janne Raassina (right) in the Vainosjoki subcatchment area.

    Diatomic algal blooms were detected by Sámi co-researcher Juha Feodoroff (left) and water restoration specialist Janne Raassina (right) in the Vainosjoki subcatchment area.

    This includes Indigenous and local customary governance and self-limiting of harvests especially on spawning salmon. Many people expressed their growing concern on the impacts of catch and release practices. Villages have sets of holistic biocultural indicators, often gendered, with which they monitor ecosystems. Women in the villages have special knowledge of the rivers.

  3. Striking similarities in biodiversity changes, especially fish health, emerged from all regions.Whitefish suffer from major parasites, salmon stocks are dwindling, the expansion of the range of Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), introduced species,
    Oral history interviews and community-based monitoring was extended to extremely remote wilderness communities such as Chalme-Varre, a seasonal settlement on Ponoi.

    Oral history interviews and community-based monitoring was extended to extremely remote wilderness communities such as Chalme-Varre, a seasonal settlement on Ponoi.

    is now a reality on both Näätämö and Ponoi as well as Sosnovka river. For the Russian communities, the back-log of Soviet land use and pollution events should be investigated as a long-term driver of change.

  4. Science results, in part beginning from 1863, on water quality, humidity and temperature indicate that Näätämö, Ponoi and Sosnovka are some of the last wilderness areas in the European North. They are for the most part in pristine condition. However the weather data confirms the local observations of the urgency of climate change and creates conditions for fish death and algal bloom events. Summer 2018 was the hottest on record in this area and the project documented the impacts of the warm spells on fish, rivers and water conditions. Statistics show that in Central Ponoi mean temperatures have already risen over 2 degrees.

    Graphs based on Russian science station weather data indicated the anomalies and warming trends on Ponoi. Data sets by Brie Van Dam, Snowchange

    Graphs based on Russian science station weather data indicated the anomalies and warming trends on Ponoi. Data sets by Brie Van Dam, Snowchange

  5. As a first for the Arctic, ecological restoration led by the Indigenous Sámi communities themselves on Näätämö has successfully re-established trout and grayling habitats 
    New spawning areas for trout and grayling

    New spawning areas for trout and grayling

    as measures to combat climate change impacts and alleviate the pressures on the salmonide. This action has been co-funded by the Kone Foundation in Finland.

  • Project Final Report in English is available here. (Large report, 50 mb).
  • Executive Summary of the Project is available here.
  • Russian Summary Report “Voices of Ponoi” in Russian is available here.

This project was led by the Snowchange Cooperative (FI) with House of Culture (Lovozero, Russia) and CBM – Swedish Biodiversity Center being main project partners together with Sámi organisations. Russian and US scientists coperated in the data analysis. Funding was provided by NEFCO PECC-1 Programme.

Children in the wilderness villages painted the "Future of Ponoi", such as this yellow perch in a clean and healthy water.

Children in the wilderness villages painted the “Future of Ponoi”, such as this yellow perch in a clean and healthy water.

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