Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

83% Decline of Freshwater Animals Underscores Need to Protect and Restore Freshwaters

Animals
83% Decline of Freshwater Animals Underscores Need to Protect and Restore Freshwaters
Terry Whittaker / WWF

This year's Living Planet Report shows that populations of animals—including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians—plummeted by 60 percent between 1970 and 2014. But those living in freshwater are experiencing a far more drastic decline: 83% since 1970. It's a sobering statistic and one tied directly to the ever-increasing pressures that people are putting on natural habitats.


We can learn a lot about the health of freshwater habitats overall by studying the animals that live in them. If freshwater animals are on the decline, that's a sign that the entire ecosystem is in trouble. Freshwater habitats face a host of threats, including increases in the amount of water we take from them; drainage of wetlands; pollution from industry, sewage and farms; invasive plant and animal species; climate change; and infrastructure development in and along waterways.

Perhaps the most urgent threat to freshwater animals and their homes is the dams, bridges, roads and other infrastructure that interfere with the natural flow and connectivity of rivers. Many freshwater fish, for example, rely on free-flowing rivers to eat, reproduce and access nutrients necessary for their survival.

Connected rivers help people, too. Free-flowing rivers move sediment to floodplains and deltas downstream, providing nutrients and soil for floodplain agriculture, allowing for healthy fisheries and supporting the resilience of delta habitats under a changing climate.

Keeping Rivers Connected and Flowing

There are currently nearly 60,000 large dams on rivers around the world and more than 3,700 more hydro dams—structures that give us energy from the flow of water—are planned globally. While hydropower plays an important role in today's renewable energy revolution, it must be carefully planned so as to minimize loss of river health.

This means considering the health of an entire river basin to find energy opportunities with the least amount of impact on the environment and people. Into the future, the dropping prices of wind and solar power, along with innovations in the ability to store power, provide the possibility for countries to meet energy demands with less hydropower and therefore fewer dams.

We can also set aside a certain amount of water in a river basin exclusively for the protection of nature and for people. Called a "water reserve," this concept requires a careful calculation of how much water people can use for energy, agriculture and other purposes and how much must remain in the river to sustain a healthy ecosystem.

This summer, Mexico authorized water reserves in nearly 300 river basins, including in one of the country's longest remaining free-flowing rivers, the Usumacinta. WWF worked with Mexico's National Water Commission to calculate how much water could be allocated to human activity and how much water should remain in the river to sustain a healthy ecosystem. This science-based planning and policies backing it up ensure water quality and quantity for 45 million Mexicans for the next 50 years—all while protecting the river's plants and wildlife.

You Can Help

The decline in groups of freshwater animals is staggering, but we can help reverse the trend. Join WWF's Freshwater Force to take action to stop bad dams and infrastructure development in freshwater habitats, raise awareness of the importance of freshwater, and champion the wildlife and communities that depend on free-flowing, clean rivers for survival.

A seagull flies in front of the Rampion offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. Neil / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton

Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.

Read More Show Less
Eat Just's cell-based chicken nugget is now served at Singapore restaurant 1880. Eat Just, Inc.

At a time of impending global food scarcity, cell-based meats and seafood have been heralded as the future of food.

Read More Show Less
New Zealand sea lions are an endangered species and one of the rarest species of sea lions in the world. Art Wolfe / Photodisc / Getty Images

One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.

Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less