Bending the curve of freshwater biodiversity loss

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Wetlands International freshwater experts contribute to Living Planet Report 2020  

Freshwater habitats including rivers, streams, lakes and other wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems on our planet. Their biodiversity is declining far faster than that of our oceans or forests and needs to be urgently put on a track to recoveryThis is the message of “A deep dive into freshwater”, part of the Living Planet Reportpublished today. In this report, which appears as a standalone freshwater publication for the first time, experts including Wetlands International’s Jane Madgwick, Richard Holland and Chris Baker, outline a six-point Emergency Recovery Plan to reverse this dramatic decline. 

The report shows the decline of freshwater biodiversity is far faster compared to other type of ecosystems like oceans or forests. Research shows that almost 90% of global wetlands have been lost since 1700The 3,741 monitored populations, representing 944 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes, have declined by an average of 84%Most of the declines are seen in freshwater amphibians, reptiles and fishes; and they’re recorded across all regions, particularly Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Wetlands International CEO, Jane Madgwick, co-author of the report, said: “ ‘A deep dive into freshwater’ is a stark reminder of the gravity of the loss of freshwater ecosystems and their biodiversity globally. But, while the outlook is grim, we’re seeing growinrecognition of the importance of healthy wetlands. This is our chance to make a change. By working on the proposed recovery plan with sectors like local communities, governments, and countries we can bend the curve.“ 

The drivers 

Since 1900 about 70% of wetlands have been lost. Despite their importance for people and nature they are still being destroyed three times faster than forestsThe rapid loss of freshwater biodiversity in wetlands globally is the result of humans damaging these precious freshwater systems. Both direct and indirect drivers play a role in the ecosystem loss and degradationDirect drivers include changes made to the natural water flow and dams that reduce flows, harvesting of species and the extraction of wood, sand and gravel, the introduction of invasive species and pollutants and drainage or burning. These direct drivers, in turn, are influenced by indirect drivers that include hydropower plants, food and fibre production, urban and infrastructure development, and water supply. On top of this climate change acts both as a direct and indirect driver and is expected to become increasingly important as a direct driver in the coming decades. 

Biodiversity loss 

Freshwater wildlife populations have declined by 84% on average since 1970. Almost one in three freshwater species are threatened with extinctionThe larger animals such as hippos, river dolphins and beavers are generally most at risk. They tend to be less resilient to changes in the environment because they generally require complex and large habitats, reproduce at a later stage in life and have fewer offspring. Protecting critical wetland habitats and ending overfishing are just two of the ways that we can bend the curve on freshwater biodiversity loss. 

Recovery plan 

Freshwater biodiversity is declining far faster than that in our oceans or forests. A global team of scientists and policy experts has recommended a six-point Emergency Recovery Plan, based on proven measures, to reverse the dramatic decline. 

  1. Let rivers flow naturally 
  2. Reduce pollution 
  3. Protect critical wetland habitat 
  4. End unsustainable use fishing and sand-mining 
  5. Control invasive species 
  6. Restore connectivity of river systems 

More on these six priorities for action can be found here. 

About the Living Planet Report 

‘A deep dive into freshwater’ is part of the Living Planet Reportproduced every two years by WWF, with input from leading experts and other organisations. It is a health-check for the planet, showing how the natural world is doing, what threats it faces and what this means for us humans. The conclusions and recommendations in the LPR are based on an analysis of a great many measures of biodiversity, one of the biggest being the Living Planet Index.
Read the whole Living planet report here.

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