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Fresh water

Around 3% of the water on Earth is freshwater; much of this is ice, but the rest forms a wide variety of biodiverse freshwater habitats, including rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, streams and other types of wetlands, such as swamps and marshes.

Freshwater bodies can be running or still and either permanent or temporary habitats (such as those that are seasonal). Most freshwater habitats are teeming with nature, supporting a range of plant and animal species from common fish and algae, to critically endangered species, like the Irrawaddy dolphin and Siamese crocodile.

Freshwater environments are carefully balanced ecosystems, but this delicate balance faces a number of threats – not least from human-driven pollution and overexploitation.

Why are freshwater habitats important?

Not only do freshwater habitats support the survival of myriad plant and animal species, but approximately two billion people worldwide depend on freshwater biodiversity for food and livelihoods. We use freshwater for everything from drinking, cooking, fishing and crop irrigation to transportation, energy production and waste disposal.

Are freshwater habitats disappearing?

Due to our heavy reliance on freshwater ecosystems, over time humans have had a severe impact on their health. Many habitats have been severely degraded and even destroyed.

Drained wetlands; dammed rivers that impede migratory species and disrupt natural river flow; and flood prevention measures that degrade wetland habitats and silt up riverbeds and coastal habitats are just a handful of the ways in which humans have degraded freshwater habitats.

Activities on land also have an impact: deforestation of upstream watersheds can cause severe flooding downstream, as well as sedimentation that can choke aquatic and coastal habitats. Industrial pollution can poison freshwater wildlife, while agricultural run-off and sewage can upset the nutrient balance of the water.

Fauna & Flora’s work to protect freshwater habitats

Across the world, the urgency of protecting our planet’s fresh water is becoming increasingly clear. Fauna & Flora works to conserve a number of freshwater habitats, and the species that rely on them, by collaborating with local communities, organisations and governments.

In Myanmar, for example, one of our priorities is ensuring that Indawgyi Lake – a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – is sustainably managed for the benefit of both local communities and biodiversity. This work includes supporting alternative livelihoods that do not rely so heavily on the resources of the lake and building the capacity of local authorities to mitigate the many threats to Indawgyi’s natural resources.

Fisherman fishing in a canoe, Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

Fisherman fishing in a canoe, Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

Fisherman fishing in a canoe, Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar.

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