May 2, 2022
Can you go the distance like a James River sturgeon?
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Each spring and fall, adult Atlantic sturgeon leave the ocean and return to spawn in the waters of the James River. According to data gathered in 2021 by researchers at the VCU Rice River Center, individual sturgeon last year traveled estimated distances in the river as short as 212 kilometers and as long as 841 kilometers.
This spring, the VCU Rice Rivers Center is challenging the community to see if they can match the sturgeons’ pace.
The inaugural James River Spring Sturgeon Challenge encourages participants to exercise – be it cycling, running, walking, swimming or rowing – and set a goal to achieve a distance related to the Atlantic sturgeon’s James River travels.
Participants will aim to accomplish their goals by May 22, the end of the typical spring sturgeon spawning season.
“One of the [Rice Rivers Center] research crew members has two goals: one is to cycle in a day the shortest distance one sturgeon moved (212 kilometers) during the entire spawning season, [and] his other goal is to cycle 841 kilometers (the furthest traveled by a spring sturgeon last year),” said Matthew Balazik, Ph.D., research assistant professor at VCU Rice Rivers Center, a field station that is part of VCU Life Sciences and devoted to environmental research, teaching and public service. “Let your imagination run wild. Feel free to do runs, walks or cycling all over the world and please share your goals and experiences.”
Balazik came up with the idea for the challenge while cycling the Virginia Capital Trail along the river near Jamestown.
“It was that time of year when the spring fish were showing up and I was like, ‘I wonder how many spring fish are up there right now, sitting and waiting?’” he said. “And then I got to thinking: If that sturgeon went its full speed, could I beat it?”
Back at the Rice Rivers Center, Balazik started analyzing the sturgeon’s movement data, calculating the distances of their runs.
“I was really surprised at the variability,” he said. “And I was really surprised at how much distance some of them travel during the spawning season.”
For the spring season, the distances traveled tend to be shorter because they don’t go as far upstream to spawn. The fall sturgeon, which tend to arrive in September, travel farther.
“We’re going to do the challenge again in the fall,” Balazik said. “I’ve got the numbers already and it’s going to be even further than the spring challenge.”
For this first challenge, however, Balazik said one idea might be for participants to take part in the Cap2Cap trail ride slated for May 6 and 7.
“This is when the James River spring spawn should be in full swing and we'd love to see folks traveling in groups (like sturgeon do) and achieve some really long distances right alongside the James River sturgeon,” he said.
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