Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands provide huge benefits to people around the world – for farming, industry, drinking water and more. And they are a home for around 1 in 10 known animals.
Despite all this, freshwater biodiversity is declining far faster than that in our oceans or forests.
Average decline in freshwater population size since 1970
1 in 3 freshwater species are threatened with extinction
Habitat breakdown through pollution and changes made to the flow of rivers and lakes, together with overexploitation and mining are just some of the threats facing freshwater species.
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Fish aren't the only species that depend on fresh water.
Freshwater fish are hugely important to the food security and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the world. Rivers, lakes and floodplains support even more fishers, processors and traders than the ocean. And small-scale fisheries are also often culturally important to communities that depend on them.
The world's largest tropical wetland is the Pantanal.
This is a vital resource for more than 270 local communities and several cities in the region – providing for economic activities ranging from cattle ranching to tourism. Elizete Garciada Costa Soares is a member of one local community who fishes for tiny crabs and bait fish called tuvira in the Paraguay River for days at a time. “Life here for us is very fulfilling,” says Elizete. “We have fish to eat; we have bait to sell to make money for other necessities. Even if we don’t have money for meat, we can go out on the river to fish and bring back a piranha to eat with manioc flour. Here, we never go hungry.”
Irrigation from rivers plays a vital role in our food system.
20% of cultivated land is irrigated, contributing to 40% of global food production. This massive amount doesn’t even include river fisheries or crops cultivated on floodplains, which feed hundreds of millions of people.
This activity is valued in the United States alone at US$43 billion a year. Dam removal could further increase this revenue, as free-flowing rivers encourage the return of migratory fish such as salmon and trout. However, other threats such as mining and overfishing must also be addressed.
Beavers can provide huge benefits to people and wildlife.
Their natural dams encourage richly diverse wetlands, as well as help to reduce the impact of floodwaters on communities living downstream. They are one of few freshwater mammals whose numbers are increasing – for example, after being extinct in the UK for 400 years, they have recently been reintroduced there.
What can you do?
We need world leaders to act to reverse the dramatic decline in freshwater biodiversity.
A wide variety of thinkers and practitioners from around the world to share their unique views on how, as a global community, we could build a resilient and healthy planet for people and nature in a post COVID-19 world.