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One Of World’s Oldest Living Species May Be Wiped Out By Pollution

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Pollution in China's Yangtze River may wipe out a critically endangered species that the country calls a "national treasure" - the Chinese sturgeon. The fish, which popped up on Earth about 140 million years ago, is facing the threat of extinction from overfishing, habitat loss from dams, and rampant pollution.

This week, a report from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Science found that in 2013, there was no natural reproduction of wild Chinese sturgeon for the first time. Scientists have been recording sightings of their eggs for 32 years.

"No natural reproduction means that the sturgeons would not expand its population and without protection, they might risk extinction," Wei Qiwei, an investigator with the academy, told China's official Xinhua news agency.

Now, there are just about 100 wild Chinese sturgeon alive. While sturgeon populations crash, other species in the river are following suit - the Yangtze river dolphin population fell by a startling 99.4 percent from 1980 to 2006, while the population of the Chinese alligator fell by 97 percent from 1955 to 2010, AFP points out.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, over the past 50 years there has been a 73 percent increase in pollution levels in the main stem of the Yangtze River. Sewage and industrial waste are routinely discharged into the water, which nitrogen from agricultural runoff clouds the river. The influx of pollutants has given rise to eutrophication, a process during which excess nutrients creates conditions of low oxygen, making it nearly impossible for species to thrive.

Sturgeon are considered something of a "living fossil" - they are believed to have been alive during the same era as dinosaurs.

The Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute is conducting a breeding program to raise young fish in captivity and the release them into the river. So far, 5 million fish have been released into the wild. The slogan for the program reads, "Love the Chinese Sturgeon, Our National Treasure."

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