Freshwater fish are one of the most endangered groups of animals on the planet, as more than a third are threatened with extinction. In North America, freshwater species are predicted to become extinct five times faster than terrestrial fauna, and three times faster than coastal marine mammals.
With almost 13,000 freshwater fish currently identified and new ones being discovered regularly, it’s difficult to keep track of what species still exist, where they’re living, and what can be done to protect them. This makes freshwater conservation one of the most challenging areas for environmentalists.
“If we don't know where or what the species are, it’s difficult to plan for their conservation,” explains Michele Thieme, a Senior Freshwater Conservation Biologist with WWF. “We know their habitats are diminishing and they face increasing threats, but additional data are critical. We hope people will help us with that.”
WWF and six other NGOs announced the Freshwater Fish BioBlitz on February 2, 2014, also known as World Wetlands Day. This new digital platform enables anyone with a camera to contribute to freshwater conservation. While fishing, swimming or hiking along a river, amateur naturalists—a.k.a. ordinary people—can snap photos of fish and upload them along with the date and location to the BioBlitz database.
A group of volunteer curators, ranging from PhD students to seasoned scientists, then comb through the photos, identify the species documented, and verify them as research-grade for data archives used by scientists around the world. The BioBlitz is the first citizen-scientist effort to be included in the IUCN Red List, a crucial conservation resource.
“This will be instrumental as we try to advance conservation efforts in places where data are missing,” Michele adds. “By creating a way for scientists and amateur naturalists around the globe to collaborate, we can build a richer knowledge base of the world’s freshwater fish and their distribution. And maybe even discover something new.” After all, a similar amphibian BioBlitz revealed a new species of frog.
So next time you’re near a river or stream, take your camera, and help scientists save freshwater fish.