The ‘Global Freshwater Fish BioBlitz’ kicked off on World Wetlands Day to engage nature lovers in freshwater fish conservation.
The Freshwater Fish Specialist Group (FFSG), of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Wetlands International (IUCN), has joined forces with other international groups, chiefly the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, FishBase, the Fisheries Society of the British Isles and the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network, to introduce this new global initiative. The BioBlitz project is designed by iNaturalist.org and hosted on the FFSG website www.iucnffsg.org/bioblitz.
People from around the world, whether anglers, photographers, students or nature lovers, are invited to upload photographs of freshwater fishes observed in their natural habitat, with details of where and when they saw them. Volunteers with expertise in fish taxonomy will serve as curators to identify and verify the species to ensure the data is research-grade. The information has the potential to assist scientists to describe new species, help assess the risk of extinction for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, can track the spread of invasive species and can be exported to freely accessible online data archives, such as Encyclopedia of Life.
The launch of the project also highlights the importance of freshwater fish for the protection of internationally important habitats. “More than three-quarters of Ramsar’s Wetlands of International Importance, or Ramsar Sites, are entirely or partly freshwater sites, and, of those, over 30 percent became Ramsar Sites because of their important fish species” said Christopher Briggs, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. “The more data we have on the species present in our wetlands, the better we can manage them. The Freshwater Fish BioBlitz will provide a wealth of essential information for managing our wetlands and their fish species.”
Projects like this are needed as Will Turner, Senior Vice President for the Moore Center for Science and Oceans at Conservation International, explains “Freshwater fishes may be the most endangered group of vertebrates, with a third of all species threatened with extinction due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation, alien invasive species and climate change.”
“The BioBlitz is our way of bringing the power of crowdsourcing to freshwater fish conservation,” said Michele Thieme, senior freshwater conservation scientist at World Wildlife Fund. “Wildlife monitoring is vital to conservation, since we can’t protect species unless we know where they live and what threats they might be facing. Engaging the public all over the world will help us identify more species in more places than we possibly could alone.”
“It is a huge task – with over 15,000 freshwater fish species, and numbers continually growing,” said Dr Richard Sneider, Global Chair for the FFSG. “More than 300 new fish species are described every year on average, so the more people ‘on the ground’ carrying out observations and recording what they have seen, the better.”
The Global Freshwater Fish Bioblitz is inspired by a similar project for amphibians, which the Amphibian Specialist Group began more than two years ago. “We’re hoping to mimic the success of the Global Amphibian BioBlitz, which has been embraced by citizen-scientists throughout the world,” said Sneider. “In only two years they’ve recorded more than 1,500 taxa and even discovered a new species. I’d say that’s a pretty good start.”