When we think of wildlife conservation, our thoughts quickly turn to the endangered tigers in Asia, the sea turtles in the Pacific, or the elephants in Africa. The animals we often forget to think about are those who reside in freshwater ecosystems. Lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands are all home to thousands of species of living creatures. Over half of all fish species throughout the world live in freshwater. These habitats are sustained by water, and without it, the habitat cannot function the same. Many species of animals, plants, and insects are not able to survive without the clean, accessible, flowing water that they are used to. As most of us know, removing one aspect of a biome can (and most likely will) disrupt the rest of it.
Construction, irrigation, pollution, and climate change have all caused animal populations to drastically decrease. Freshwater ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to human development, and the proof is in the number of species that have become endangered—and even extinct—in just the past few decades. Since 1970, populations of large freshwater species have seen a massive decline of 88 percent. Animals such as fish, otters, stingrays, salamanders, turtles, beavers, crocodiles, and more, are all at risk due to the damage that has been done to Earth’s freshwater ecosystems.
National Geographic reported that nearly 94 percent of large fish species such as sturgeons, salmons, and giant catfishes, have seen a decline in populations. There have been a low amount of studies performed on the populations of freshwater species in comparison to marine species and other more “popular” endangered animals.
Between 1991 and 2007, 16 species of salmon were considered either threatened or endangered. Washington State’s Recreation and Conservation Office states, “By 1999, wild salmon had disappeared from about 40 percent of their historic breeding ranges in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California.”
Whooping cranes are a North American waterbird that is highly endangered and have consistently been struggling to survive for decades. In 1941, there were only 21 whooping cranes left on earth due to prairie marshes being destroyed for infrastructure. As of 2011, there was a population of 600 whooping cranes due to serious and strategic conservation efforts.
The baiji, also known as the Chinese river dolphin, was the first dolphin species driven to extinction by human beings. The dolphins all lived in the Yangtze River in China, which began construction of the Three-Gorges Dam in 1994. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Organization states, “The building of this mega hydroelectric dam of mind-boggling proportions began in 1994 and construction took several years; it caused huge-scale environmental damage to the Yangtze River, destroyed wildlife habitats and wiped out native species.” Ganges River dolphins, Indus river dolphins, and Irrawaddy dolphins are all species of river dolphins that are currently endangered.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “What can I do to help?”
The answer is simple. Conserve water.
- Change the old water fixtures in your home to high-efficiency, water-saving fixtures. Toilets, showerheads, bathroom, and kitchen sink aerators all have high-efficiency alternatives. Switching from a standard 1.6 gallon per flush toilet to an ultra-high efficiency of 0.8 gallons per flush toilet can save tens of thousands of gallons of water per year.
- Consider a water-efficient garden instead of a grass lawn. Watering a grass lawn requires thousands of gallons of water every single time it gets watered.
- Find out where your food comes from! Many agricultural systems are damaging to freshwater ecosystems by using a significant amount of water and fertilizers that are harmful to living beings.
- Use organic fertilizers for your own plants and lawn/garden. Growing your own food can be an inexpensive and fun way to help save water!
- Protect the water systems that exist locally. Learn about the biome and how it can be affected by any changes being made within the community.
- Support the wildlife and water conservation efforts that are doing what they can to protect our planet and our natural resources.
- The World Wildlife Fund’s Freshwater Force allows for their supporters to come together to fight for the conservation of freshwater habitats.