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Focus on Water Month: global issues - the story of the Yangtze porpoise

August is Focus on Water Month at UEA, and Assistant Environmental Officer Emily Lewis has highlighted the importance of fresh water to our global biodiversity...


Focus on Water Month: proportional diagram of freshwater habitats (created by Emily Lewis, SustainableUEA)

An estimated 126,000 species rely on freshwater habitats such as lakes and river systems. However only 0.02% of the world’s water makes up lakes and rivers. The diagram illustrates, proportionally, how many species this type of habitat has to support relative to its size.

Lakes and rivers not only provide a habitat for these species but provide drinking water for millions of other species. This tiny percentage of Earth’s water is essential to life.

In a lot of developed countries, water is taken for granted. Many places can get running water at the turn of a tap and it seems like an unlimited supply. However, fresh water is a limited resource and is becoming even more limited due to climate change and pollution. As well as impacting humans, this change in freshwater usage has affected many freshwater species.

The stunning Yangtze River in China is home to the finless porpoise. This porpoise is critically endangered. One reason for this is that the growth of China has made the Yangtze River one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Nearly 35 billion tons of sewage and waste enter the river each year. With more and more waste being dumped, every year the porpoise loses 13% of its population. Conservationists suggest that if no changes are made, the porpoise will be extinct in ten years.

Finless porpoise, Yangtze River. Focus on Water Month, UEA

This wouldn’t be the first aquatic mammal to go extinct in the Yangtze River. The baiji dolphin, known to locals as the ‘goddess of the Yangtze’, was declared extinct in 2006.

However, things are changing for the Yangtze River. For the Chinese government, environmental protection has become a main concern. The pollution levels are threatening the heath of people and wildlife to the point that the damage can no longer be ignored.

There is still a lot to protect in the Yangtze as it continues to support a huge diversity of species. The aim of the government is to clean up China’s river systems to an excellent or good standard by 2020.

The Yangtze River, China

By creating awareness of environmental issues and making them political priorities, these incredibly important freshwater resources can be preserved for people and wildlife. Acknowledging how dependent life on Earth is on this tiny percentage of the world’s water is a step in the right direction. Protecting rivers and lakes from pollution, overfishing and the effects of climate change will help preserve the vast diversity of species found in them.