Freshwater has long been a Cinderella issue i.e. routinely ignored but deserving more attention.
Freshwater ecosystems – rivers, lakes, wetlands – cover less than one per cent of the earth’s surface, yet are home to up to 50 per cent of all fish species. Despite its importance, freshwater biodiversity is currently low down on environmental priorities, marine and terrestrial ecosystems tend to get far more attention.
Freshwater receives little funding or political attention and protection. A key objective for Synchronicity Earth is to move freshwater up the agenda and we are fortunate to work with some excellent partners who are helping us to do just that.
IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, Freshwater Conservation Sub-committee
In addition to core funding for the IUCN’s Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, in 2017 Synchronicity Earth has begun supporting the union’s Freshwater Conservation Sub-committee. After the comprehensive integration of freshwater into the IUCN Programme of work agreed for 2017-2020, these two groups have been working to harness existing momentum around stronger global collaboration on the conservation of freshwater biodiversity. They now have a strong mandate to press ahead with mainstreaming freshwater conservation within the world’s largest conservation network (the IUCN), a key step in catapulting freshwater biodiversity from a Cinderella issue to a global conservation priority.
International Rivers, International River Gathering
In March International Rivers co-hosted the International River Gathering in Tbilisi, which brought together 83 representatives from grassroots organisations working to protect the world’s rivers in 37 countries. The focus of the gathering was on sharing experiences and building stronger relationships between the participants. Attendees drew attention to the fact that too often development of the world’s river systems comes at the expense of local people, that it is anti-poor, and that their voices are rarely heard. There was also a rejection of the premise of transposing the costs of unsustainable development from the atmosphere to the hydrosphere.
One attendee of the river gathering was International Rivers’ Africa Programme, which SE supports directly. In March the Africa Programme released an animated video which informs people affected by dam development about their rights during the resettlement process – some 40-80 million people have been displaced by more than 50,000 large dams since the beginning of the 20th century! It has also continued to engage with local groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo to build their capacity to represent local interests, and in recognition of the fact that women often experience the worst effects of displacement and resettlement is working to support better female inclusion in assessment and consultation procedures.
Living Rivers Association (LRA)
Another Synchronicity Earth partner represented at the international River Gathering was Living Rivers Association. In 2017 Living Rivers has been busy completing research to inform an application for a site in the Lower Ing River to be designated a national wetland, which would be a key step in conserving the flooded forests which serve as vital nurseries and refuges for the fish species which are of such cultural and economic importance to the region.
In its efforts to build socio-ecological resistance to developments further upstream on the Mekong in northern Thailand, LRA is also working to expand the network of fish conservation zones across Chiang Rai province, and to build links between communities to share best practices in managing these areas, which can help to increase local populations of key species. These approaches can help to mitigate the costs borne locally of damage done by upstream development, and as well as supporting local communities, LRA is continuing to engage in advocacy through national and regional networks to draw attention to the risks of projects such as the Pak Beng Dam in Lao PDR and the Mekong Navigation Project.
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) – Saving the Madagascar Pochard
Finally, 2017 has also seen Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) make major strides in its project to save the Madagascar Pochard from extinction. A new agreement has recently been negotiated which will see responsibility for the sustainable use and management of Lake Sofia, the wetland site where the captive bred pochards will be released back into the wild, transferred to local communities. This agreement between the regional government and an organisation representing three communities which neighbour Lake Sofia is seen as a key step in engaging the local population in conserving the wetland ecosystem and its new inhabitants.
Meanwhile WWT has also been busy carrying out preparations for the first releases of captive bred Madagascar Pochards back into the wild. If you visit Slimbridge this summer, you’ll be able to see the floating aviaries which are being trialled there before being sent off to Madagascar. WWT is replicating the breeding and release process with Tufted ducks, a species resident to the UK but which as a diving duck of the same genus shares many characteristics with the Madagascar Pochard. The information gathered should help inform the release operation at Lake Sofia, which will begin in next year’s dry season (May-November 2018).