Today, wildlife conservation is more important than ever. Species are becoming extinct, land is being developed at unprecedented rates and resource demand is outstripping the world’s supply. With the human population multiplying and climate change affecting communities across the globe, wildlife conservation is vital. Without a doubt, water conservation is an essential part of protecting wildlife.
Freshwater ecosystems are especially vulnerable to water shortages and pollution. To create resiliency in the face of climate change, we must focus on conserving water and wildlife and find solutions that do both. These environmental issues are not singular, and there is no one way to fix them. However, by better understanding how water conservation influences wildlife, we may take a step in the right direction.
Water for Wildlife Conservation in Action
Wildlife conservation is more than just protecting endangered species. Every habitat on Earth faces threats to its survival and needs support to assure its vitality. Forests, oceans, wetlands and polar regions all experience the effects of human consumption. When it comes to water conservation, freshwater habitats are the most impacted. These systems are incredibly vulnerable to changes in the water supply and are also more likely to experience the direct effects of pollution.
Drought, agriculture and booming populations all contribute to water shortages. Solutions to water shortages must include the health of wildlife populations, not just humans. In recent years, California has struggled with a depleted water supply, leading to a diverse series of solutions.
For example, in 2004, the California Department of Fish and Game used a water storage dam to relieve pressure on fish habitats. Solutions like this that address both water and wildlife conservation are more likely to make the most positive impact than isolated ones.
Water conservation for freshwater habitats is vital to the creatures within those ecosystems and human communities as well. Without thriving freshwater habitats, the world as we know it would cease to exist. Identifying the main threats to these environments helps people create solutions to these complex issues. If we work to conserve water and wildlife as a singular goal, we can protect habitats for the creatures who depend on them and the future generations of humans who enjoy them.
Threats to Freshwater Habitats
Freshwater habitats include various water bodies, such as:
These habitats are home to over 50% of all known fish species and over 10% of all known animal species. Human activity has resulted in a 75% decline in freshwater species, which is a much higher rate than marine or terrestrial species. While it may be easier to think about the deforestation of tropical rainforests thousands of miles from our homes, the habitats in our backyards are just as vulnerable.
Pollution comes in many forms, and depleted water quality affects everyone. Agriculture, untreated waste and industrial processes are the main contributors to water pollution. These systems pollute freshwater and harm coastlines and water treatment facilities, threatening human health.
In addition to pollution, freshwater systems face other threats, such as deforestation and invasive species. According to the World Wildlife Fund, freshwater systems are some of the most endangered habitats in the world. They are exceptionally vulnerable to human development. The number of wetlands around the globe has decreased by half since 1900. Additionally, 46% of all freshwater habitats are considered threatened, meaning they’re classified as either endangered or vulnerable.
When it comes to human activity, land-use change is the primary player in habitat loss. This information should not come as a surprise. Just think about how many farms or forests have been destroyed for a new housing development or parking lot in the last decade. Issues like urban sprawl and commercial development have accounted for most land loss in recent years, with increasingly high rates since the end of World War II.
Many of us are familiar with the effects of habitat loss on certain species of fish, including salmon and trout. These species are endangered entirely because of human activity and the issues resulting from it. Many fish populations are dwindling because of habitat loss, including the availability of healthy water.
In addition to natural droughts and changing weather patterns, the use of water in agriculture has the most detrimental effect on wildlife. Freshwater ecosystems are more affected than any other ecosystem. Agriculture consumes about 70% of the Earth’s freshwater supply. Not only is it a major water consumer, but it is also the primary polluter. Agricultural run-off contaminates rivers and streams, affecting ecosystems far downstream from the farm itself.
Protecting Water for Wildlife
For all creatures, water is life. Without it, living beings cannot thrive. That makes water conservation an essential part of wildlife protection. All around the world, conservation efforts aim to regenerate damaged ecosystems, restore habitats and reduce the impact of human activity on wild animals. The solution to effective wildlife conservation must include a plan for water protection, as they benefit each other.
Wildlife conservation can various forms, including eco-tourism and habitat restoration. But at its core, it’s all about improving the way humans interact with the natural world. If we want to save endangered species and preserve land effectively, we need to talk about how we can improve water systems.
Water conservation includes:
Reducing pollution: Agricultural run-off is a large source of water pollution and is particularly damaging to wildlife. This run-off often consists of nitrogen-rich fertilizers, which deplete the oxygen in water bodies and suffocate marine life.
Decreasing demand for water: With the global population multiplying, water is becoming an increasingly limited resource all across the world. In many cases, animals suffer because the demand for local resources is much higher than the supply available.
Supporting natural systems that preserve water: Lastly, human activity has depleted or destroyed many natural environments that conserve water. Protecting these sources is a must if we want to continue having freshwater habitats and drinkable water.
Without water conservation, a healthy habitat cannot exist. Water is arguably the central aspect of wildlife conservation. Most animal species in arid and temperate regions are heavily impacted by water shortages and pollution. Meanwhile, freshwater ecosystems are significantly harmed by water pollution.
Freshwater habitats are worth protecting for a myriad of reasons, not just ecological ones. Finding more sustainable uses for freshwater systems and encouraging more communities to engage with their environments is a great way to raise awareness of these issues.
For example, many rivers and lakes hold cultural and social significance. Some play an important historical role or are used for recreational purposes. Many of these purposes can encourage environmentalists to protect wildlife while also creating a healthy space for humans to enjoy the outside world.
Solutions for Water Conservation
It’s easy to assume that the world’s water supply is infinite, especially if you look at a globe and see the great expanse of oceans. However, the amount of useable water is actually quite small. Only 3% of the Earth’s water is freshwater. Of that percentage, less than 1% is useable for drinking. Freshwater ecosystems are vital to the wildlife that inhabit them and the humans who also rely on them.
Humans and animals alike need clean water to survive. We may not feel the impact of habitat degradation as immediately as marine animals, but our consumption rates are far outpacing the supply. If we continue ignoring water conservation recommendations, we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Thankfully, there are some simple ways we can all save more water. By using less water in our own homes and supporting industries that do the same, we can protect wildlife from the many issues stemming from human impact.
Since agriculture is one of the largest contributors to water insecurity, a very tangible way to address water conservation is by examining your plate. Where do you buy your food? How is it grown? Familiarizing yourself with the agricultural systems you support and growing your own food if you are able is a great way to decrease your water consumption.
Additionally, fossil fuel production and other industrial operations like manufacturing play a huge role in water pollution. Reducing your consumption habits concerning textiles, transportation and other commercial goods and services makes a bigger impact than you may think.
Solutions to wildlife and water conservation are complex, and none of them provide quick fixes to a complicated problem. Industries and consumers alike will need to adjust their consumption habits and pay closer attention to how human consumption affects wildlife to affect change.
Decreasing plastic waste because it threatens marine species is a tangible issue we can address. Addressing agricultural and industrial systems that endanger fish species in our own rivers and lakes may be a bit more intricate. However, raising awareness about the importance of water for wildlife conservation is a great first step.
Environmentalism Is Multi-Faceted and Interconnected
Humans need water to live, but we aren’t the only living creatures who rely on healthy ecosystems to thrive. If we search for water shortage solutions that forget about wildlife, our efforts will not be sustainable. If we think about wildlife first and address how water consumption levels impact all inhabitants of freshwater environments, we are heading in the right direction.
Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger on conservation and sustainability. To see her latest posts, check out her blog, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter, @emilysfolk!