Despite the vast amount of water flooding the surface of our planet, a surprisingly tiny amount is salt-free. Only around 3% of the water on Earth exists as fresh water; the bulk of this is ice, but the rest forms a wide variety of amazing freshwater habitats – from babbling brooks to tumbling alpine streams and mile-wide, meandering rivers and from vast lakes to sprawling floodplains and other wetland habitats.
Freshwater bodies can be running or still and either permanent or temporary habitats (such as those that are seasonal). Some shun the limelight and flow through pitch-dark caverns or exist as underground aquifers, while others course magnificently across our planet, creating breathtaking natural wonders such as crashing waterfalls and lake systems so immense that they are visible from space.
Freshwater habitats teem with life, from the familiar to the exotic, and from common to critically endangered species: iridescent damselflies and Irrawaddy dolphins; axolotls and Amazonian manatees; spoonbills and shoebills; American alligators and Siamese crocodiles; hippos and hellbenders; great crested newts and goliath frogs; giant otters and giant crayfish; electric eels and Baikal seals.
Without freshwater ecosystems, life on Earth as we know it would not be possible. Yet, without their rich biodiversity these ecosystems would quickly collapse and cease to function, as it is this diversity that keeps freshwater systems clean and healthy.