Categories Europe and Russia, Finland, ICCA national and sub-national studies, Local and national reviews and examples, Newsflash

Community detects important changes in their rivers and elaborate solutions

The “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 the Näätämö river flowing from Finland to the Barents Sea, as well as the Ponoi river on Kola Peninsula, Russia.

New spawning areas for trout and grayling

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

  1. Climate change is now an urgent reality that is affecting the health of both fish populations and ecosystems in the Näätämö and Ponoi catchment areas as well as Sosnovka. Water temperatures are becoming dangerously warm and the 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, are 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 over the long-term, to understand climate and ecological change in the river basins, from the perspectives of both science and traditional knowledge. This knowledge includes Indigenous and local customary governance and self-limiting of harvests, especially of spawning salmon. Many people expressed their growing concern about the impact of catch and release practices. Villages have sets of holistic biocultural indicators, often with a gender-sensitive approach, 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, and the populations of Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), an introduced species, are growing. For the Russian communities, the backlog of Soviet land use and pollution events should be investigated for its role as a long-term driver of negative change.
  4. The water quality, humidity, and temperature of the Näätämö, Ponoi and Sosnovka rivers have been studied since 1863. They are considered to be among the last remaining wilderness areas in the European North. However, the weather data confirms the local observations of the urgency of climate change which is creating conditions for fish death and algal bloom events. The summer of 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 the mean temperatures have already risen over 2 degrees.
  5. However, ecological restoration initiated and led by the Indigenous Sámi communities on Näätämö has successfully restored trout and grayling habitats, and their work serves as an example of the value of traditional knowledge when finding ways to combat climate change impacts and alleviate the pressures on the environment, in this case, the salmonide populations.

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

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 — as the main project partners, together with Sámi organisations. Russian and US scientists cooperated in the data analysis. Funding was provided by NEFCO PECC-1 Programme.

(c) Photo credits: Snowchange

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

Inland weather warming is also visible in the data sets from Kanevka, Central Ponoi. 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

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

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

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