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A Living River

A new short film from National Geographic filmmaker Jon Bowermaster looks at efforts by Riverkeeper, the DEC, and others to restore the life within our majestic Hudson River.

Herring in the Hudson. Photo: Jon Bowermaster/Oceans 8 Films
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Too often, people mistakenly accuse the Hudson River—America’s First River, the River That Flows Both Ways—of being dead.

It’s a somewhat understandable accusation, given the decades of horrific industrial and urban pollution combined with a fishery that took, took, took, with scant regard for the future. The truth is that thanks to efforts over the past thirty to forty years by some of the savviest environmental activists in the country, wildlife in the Hudson River is rebounding big-time.

Five years ago, my filmmaking team and I embarked on a mission to illustrate in short films a wide range of environmental risks still affecting the river, including the continued PCB pollution that has made the Hudson River America’s largest Superfund site, the leaky nuclear power plant at Indian Point on the verge of a shutdown, and the continued transport of crude oil up and down the river by train, barge, and pipeline.

We have also focused our cameras on some great news stories here in the Hudson Valley, including efforts to reintroduce Native American seeds on the verge of extinction; the experimentation with new breeds of organic wheat by local bakers, brewers, and distillers; the ongoing 50th anniversary celebrations of Clearwater, Riverkeeper, and Scenic Hudson; and the successful undamming of several of the big river’s tributaries, allowing ecosystems to return to their previous states.

For the past two years, with the help of the team at Riverkeeper, we have attempted to document the astonishing range of aquatic wildlife in the Hudson, from the incredible migration of tiny glass eels which arrive from the Sargasso Sea each spring to the giant, prehistoric sturgeon making a huge comeback (via sonar, 14-footers were spotted on the river floor last summer).

The new film, A Living River, has its premiere Thursday, August 15, at the Sloop Brewery in Fishkill. Tickets are still available. I’ll show it over the weekend, too, at Time & Space Ltd. in Hudson on Saturday, August 17, and at Rough Draft in Kingston on Sunday, August 18. Check out the full schedule at

Hudson River sturgeon
This adult sturgeon was pulled from the depths near Haverstraw Bay to be tagged for study by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). This guy weighed in at about 150 pounds and measured between seven and eight feet long.
Hudson River herring
Herring return from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn in the sixty-plus tributaries that line the river.
Hudson River blue crab
Blue crab remains one of the only Hudson River species still sold commercially.
Hudson River blue crab
The Hudson’s last crab man, John Mylod, fills his pots each summer day and sells the crabs out of the trunk of his car near his home in Poughkeepsie. He’s worked on the river all his life.
Hudson River fishing
Every August, the DEC sponsors a public fish count to attract kids and parents to the riverside for an up-close glimpse of just how much life is out there in the river.
Hudson River glass eels
Tiny glass eels, like these, make their way up a creek near Poughkeepsie to spawn. Their 1,500-mile adventure ends in a once-in-a-lifetime spawning, one of the world’s great migration stories.
Hudson River sturgeon DEC
A juvenile Atlantic sturgeon being tagged by the DEC to monitor its health and travel patterns. Thanks to its classification as an endangered species, the Hudson’s sturgeon population is now booming.
Hudson River herring
Between 350,000 and 600,000 herring can visit a Hudson River tributary, like the Black Creek, each season.
Hudson River fisherman
Crab man John Mylod considers fishermen to be the “most endangered” species on the Hudson River.
Pete Malinowski Billion Oyster Project
Pete Malinowski, Executive Director of the Billion Oyster Project, reminds us of the days when New York City’s harbor was full of fish and the sun would be blacked-out thanks to huge flocks of birds flying overhead.

Jon Bowermaster is a writer, filmmaker, and ocean advocate. Follow his work at Oceans 8 Films, and tune in weekly to the Green Radio Hour on Radio Kingston.