The waters of the world can be dark and full of mysteries. Some mysteries are mythological – like Northern Italy’s Lake Garda monster – while others are more disturbingly rooted to real-world problems — like the king salmon’s disappearance from water bodies of Alaska. Jeremy Wade explores both kinds, in Animal Planet’s latest series Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters.
Wade is a familiar name among wildlife television viewers: the biologist, author and television host has had a screen presence for 35 years, a significant part of which he spent hauling up creatures little-known, unheard-of, or much-feared out of wild waters around the world, from shallow jungle rivers of Tasmania and deep lakes of Ireland, to mountain rivers of India. In the process, he would do more than just explain the physics of a sea creature’s body structure: how it swims, hunts, defends itself. He often highlighted local conservation efforts, shed light on commercial fishing as well as non-fishing communities, and brought to fore on-ground issues… all with the added drama of impending harm at the hands of a marine monster.
But the ‘monsters’ are sometimes victims: of overfishing, damming, and other human activities.
One such victim seems to be the majestic king salmon, as Wade explains over a phone interview, “Overfishing is a huge problem in the world today. A long time ago, we passed the point where it was realistic to harvest fish from rivers; now, that situation has moved into the oceans as well. Alaska is going to be interesting because they have historically had very rich runs of salmon, of five different species. They have very strict management of this fish. There are a number of different stakeholders, like commercial fishermen, subsistence fishermen, recreational fishermen, and they try to manage it in such a way that keeps the runs of salmon returning to the river.” For years, he says, this has worked quite well, except in the last few years when the numbers of king salmon have declined sharply. “What everyone is struggling to understand is, why?” says Wade.
The understanding of the people on the ground is important, agrees Wade, especially in terms of environment and conservation. “If you look at the situation globally, it’s quite a bad news story. But if you go to specific places, there are examples of local people in particular areas who are reversing the trajectory. Often it comes down to them taking control of their local environment and protecting it,” he points out.
He gives an example from an episode of one of his earlier series, Mighty Rivers. “One programme was on the Amazon. There was something very interesting happening there: a concept called extracted reserves. Normally, if you create a reserve, the idea is to tell people to get out and leave Nature alone. In these extracted reserves, the local people are allowed to harvest the fish, but in a sustainable way. They are given help; there is collaboration. The results have been incredible.”
One result he talks about is the arapaima, which lives in floodplain lakes that border the Amazon river. “Over several decades, this fish had declined dramatically, almost to a point where it was locally extinct in much of the Amazon. I went to a place where one of these extracted reserves was started: within just 10 years, they have lakes now that are just full of this fish. The community has a very good income now, from managing their local resource.”
Examples are many, from community-level interventions like these, to the wine-making father-son duo in Germany, who reintroduced local tigerfish into the Danube. “It had declined dramatically, and just this one guy and his son are doing something. There are possibilities.”
Jeremy Wade’s Dark Waters premières in India on July 6 at 9 pm on Animal Planet, Animal Planet HD and Discovery Plus app.