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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

Facts about... the Mississippi River.


CURWOOD: Four hundred and fifty five years ago, Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto reached the Mississippi River, making him the first European to lay eyes on the Big Muddy. Since then the Mississippi has been a major route of American commerce, and a large part of our cultural heritage. The Mississippi suffered for centuries as the main drain of America's sewage system. Over the decades pollution from cities, industry and agriculture eroded aquatic plants that support migratory birds and other wildlife on the river. Mink is one such species. It used to be abundant on the upper Mississippi until the 1960s when PCB pollution on the river was at its highest. Now the mink is coming back but its population is still less than half what it was just 40 years ago. In addition to pollution threats, the Mississippi and its natural inhabitants are under invasion from a host of alien species, also brought to the Mississippi by humanity. Chief among these are the zebra mussel and the purple loose strife, which have displaced native animal and plant species. Despite all this there have been no documented extinctions on the Mississippi since the 1800s. It seems that despite almost everything we can do to it, it is still the Mighty Mississippi. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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