We have not been good stewards of our planet's wetlands. Although they cover only about six per cent of the Earth's surface, wetlands are one of the most impacted habitats. The global loss of wetlands is staggering. Since 1900, more than 64 per cent of the world's wetlands have been lost, with about 50 per cent of this loss occurring since 1970.
Across the globe, freshwater wildlife populations have declined 81 per cent over the past four decades. That's more than twice the population decline for land-based or ocean wildlife. In Canada, some of those freshwater species at risk include Atlantic salmon, white sturgeon, freshwater mussels, nooksack dace, the northern leopard frog, and seven of eight freshwater turtle species.
For far too many watersheds, basic water quality information is inaccessible. That's because it's locked away in the proprietary reports of corporations or tucked away in a file somewhere in an organization that is understaffed with overworked people. Or because it's simply not being collected in the first place.
"If climate change is a shark, then water is its teeth." Like a fish that doesn't notice the shark until it feels its sharp bite, humans will first feel the effects of climate change through water. Under current projections, most freshwater ecosystems globally will face ecologically significant impacts by the middle of this century.
Conservation scientists are concerned about the lack of ice on the Great Lakes, which this winter is at an almost historic low. Young fish may face harsher environments; shoreline habitats are in jeopardy; the risks of pollution are elevated; and algae problems could be worse than usual this summer as a result, leading to an increased number of beach closings.
The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act sets high standards but without the adequate funding, leaves communities without the necessary tools to meet those standards. Despite repeated pledges from the federal government to ensure clean drinking water, there are routinely more than 100 water advisories in effect in First Nation communities, with some living under advisories for up to 20 years.
On Saturday, September 19, more than 35,000 Canadians will be out in full force to clean up a shoreline in their community for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup -- It's part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day, making it one of the biggest cleanup events in the world.
Phosphorus is a key nutrient in aquatic systems, but excess phosphorous is the leading cause of the increase in the harmful blue-green algae that is becoming more common in the Great Lakes. Toxic and harmful algal bloom occurrences in Lake Erie pose risks to drinking supplies, quality of life and economic vitality.
Canada is a treasure trove of rivers, lakes and wetlands supporting countless communities, economies and species. With freshwater species experiencing the greatest rate of decline in what is being referred to as the sixth great extinction, Canada must step up efforts to improve watershed health for people and animals. For a prime example of our freshwater health and wealth, we need to look no further than the Skeena watershed on the northwest coast of British Columbia.
WWF-Canada's new national freshwater threats assessment (FTA) found the St. John - St. Croix watershed to experience a "high" level of threats, a score that is in line with most of the other watersheds in the developed areas of the country.