Freshwater ecosystems have been valued mainly as water sources for drinking and irrigation, used for navigation and to generate hydropower. But they also provide other services such as flood-risk reduction, fisheries, sediment delivery, and carbon storage.
A new report highlights the key role of freshwater fish populations for the health of rivers, lakes and wetlands, and calls for action to safeguard the future of freshwater fish, and with them, the ecosystems that support our societies and economies, informs The Guardian.
The World’s Forgotten Fishes, produced by WWF and another 15 global organisations involved in conservation, warns about the imperilled status of global populations of freshwater fish: a third of freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction. For instance, migratory freshwater fish have declined by an average of 76% in the past 50 years. Research shows freshwater mega-fishes – those that can reach a body mass of more than 30 kg) have experienced a global decline of 94% also in the past 50 years.
The report proposes a plan to enable the recovery of freshwater fishes and the ecosystems they inhabit based on six pillars. They are not new: already implemented in different corners of the globe, they follow the pathway for a sustainable freshwater transition proposed the 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook, the flagship publication of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
- Let rivers flow more naturally;
- Improve water quality in freshwater ecosystems;
- Protect and restore critical habitats;
- End overfishing and unsustainable sand mining in rivers and lakes;
- Prevent and control invasions by non-native species; and
- Protect free-flowing rivers and remove obsolete dams.
Our civilisations are tied to waterways and their biodiversity. Freshwater ecosystems are among the most diverse, but also the most threatened on Earth, some say underrepresented in biodiversity research and conservation efforts. And we know fish are central to the natural balance of those freshwater ecosystems, and critical indicators of their resilience. Just as we are starting to make progress in recognising the value of water, critical to life and economic activity, it is also important for our economies and societies to value rivers, lakes and wetlands for all the benefits they provide and safeguard them accordingly.