Each year, the sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) venture from the Pacific Ocean into freshwater rivers to spawn. When it’s time to lay their eggs, they make the journey from the ocean back to the river they came from, sometimes travelling hundreds of kilometres. It’s hard to say exactly how the salmon know where to go or how to get there, with some theories suggesting they can follow the Earth’s magnetic field and others pointing to their sense of smell as their guide.

Sockeye Salmon return home to the same river they were born in to lay their eggs.

Sockeye salmon return home to the same river they were born in to lay their eggs.

Because salmon will only lay their eggs in the river they were born in, it’s important that we ensure they can get back to this river when it’s time for them to spawn. Things like waterfalls, beaver dams, and eager predators can get in the way and make the journey perilous, and building things like bridges and hydro dams makes the problem even worse. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to the salmon population that used to make their homes in British Columbia’s Coquitlam River. The construction of a dam in the 1900s made it almost impossible for the salmon to pass through and get back to the river, which meant they couldn’t spawn. Without new generations of salmon being born the population plummeted, and now less than 100 salmon attempt to pass the dam each year.

A spawning sockeye salmon attempts to jump over a waterfall on its journey home.

A spawning sockeye salmon attempts to jump over a waterfall on its journey home.

Earth Rangers is working on a project that’s trying to restore the Coquitlam River’s salmon population by collecting salmon eggs and bringing them to a nearby hatchery so they can grow and be released back into the river. In 2017 almost 5,000 hatchery-reared salmon were released below the dam so they could make their way to the ocean, and now 2 years later these same salmon are expected to start making their way home any time. Since they won’t be able to pass the dam, the returning adult salmon will be captured and brought to a hatchery. Here their eggs will be fertilized and will hopefully grow into healthy baby sockeye!

Earth Rangers members can support this important work through the Bring Back the Wild Program, in which kids across Canada raise funds to help this exciting project continue. To learn more about how to get your family involved, visit earthrangers.com/wildwire/sockeye-salmon/

Fisheries scientists and members of the Kwikwetlem First Nation gather to celebrate the 2017 salmon release.

Fisheries scientists and members of the Kwikwetlem First Nation gather to celebrate the 2017 salmon release.

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In collaboration with:

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