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In The Field

Art and conservation unite to bring message of hope to COP26


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Joseph Rossano's glass salmon "swim" with wild Atlantic salmon in the York River. Nick Hawkins and Tom Cheney

The world is looking at Glasgow, Scotland, where the UN’s 26th “Conference of Parties,” or COP26, began this week. Thousands of delegates—political leaders, climate scientists, negotiators, businesspeople—are meeting at what has consistently been called humanity’s “last best hope” to evade complete climate and biodiversity catastrophe.

“Hope” may be the key term in that moniker. The threats—and work required to surmount them—are monumental. It’s easy to lose hope.

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Joseph Rossano's "Salmon School"

And that’s exactly where collaborations like Salmon School come in. Working with artisans from around the world, renowned artist Joseph Rossano created 350 stunning, reflective blown-glass salmon forms, a “school” that now hangs in the heart of COP26. The sculpture represents the fragility of wild salmon, but it also symbolizes hope. Seeing this beautiful installation daily, delegates have a constant reminder of what’s at stake. And—we hope—they’ll be inspired to make the right decisions.

Bringing wild salmon conservation to the world’s largest and most important climate change conference took real teamwork. The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) worked with a global partnership to make it happen. Our coalition includes UK’s Atlantic Salmon Trust and Missing Salmon AllianceSalmon Nation and the Wild Salmon Center on the Western coast of North America, as well as the Smithsonian. Our collective presence at COP26 is united around a simple message: wild salmon need “Cold, Clean Water.”

Of course, it’s not just about salmon. Whole ecosystems, global biodiversity, and human civilization all hang in the balance. But Salmon School shows that these are one and the same. The work we’re already doing to ensure wild salmon have cold, clean water also contributes to climate change mitigation.

Creating broad-scale, meaningful land protections and reducing deforestation sequester significant amounts of carbon. Removing dams and restoring freshwater habitat create climate resiliency. By safeguarding salmon watersheds, we’re helping the planet help us.

In short, if we ensure cold, clean water—if we get it right for wild salmon—we’ll also be getting it right for the planet, ourselves included. Joseph Rossano’s remarkable sculpture brings this message to COP26, and our partnership is bringing it to a global audience.

COP26 has four central goals: reach carbon net zero, adapt, mobilize finance, and work together. The Salmon School partnership shows that salmon conservation already contributes meaningfully to these goals, and that we have a lot more to give in the future.

Whether it’s our Maine Headwaters Project, enhancing cold-water refugia, or the development of our Wild Salmon Watersheds network, ASF is working to assure salmon have cold, clean water. All the local work for quality habitat is part of the global fight against climate change.

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The Salmon School partnership is asking COP26 delegates to "be bold for salmon," and help ensure they have access to "Cold, Clean Water." Tom Cheney/ASF

Salmon School’s most important message may be the strength of partnerships. From local stakeholders and watershed groups working to remove an antiquated dam, to a transcontinental coalition of salmon organizations, to the unlikely but fortuitous combination of art and conservation, big things can happen when we work together.

It can be easy to forget, but we have plenty of good reasons to hope.

To learn more about the Salmon School partnership, check out: 

And be sure to follow us on Instagram for COP26 updates and lots more: @asf_salmon