(NEXSTAR) — Almost one-third of freshwater fish are threatened with extinction, according to a new report published Tuesday by 16 global conservation organizations. “World’s Forgotten Fishes” details the detrimental effects that the loss of freshwater fish species could have on the planet, as fish are essential to “the health of the world’s rivers, lakes and wetlands,” in addition to supporting societies and economies around the globe.
There are more than 18,075 species of freshwater fish, which account for half the world’s fish species and a quarter of all vertebrate species.
But thousands of those species are now headed toward extinction due to a series of threats facing freshwater ecosystems, including habitat destruction, hydropower damns and pollution, according to the report.
Already, 80 species of freshwater fish have been declared extinct by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including 16 in 2020 alone.
Since 1970, populations of migratory freshwater fish have fallen 76%, while mega-fish have decreased by 94%.
“Nowhere is the world’s nature crisis more acute than in our rivers, lakes and wetlands, and the clearest indicator of the damage we are doing is the rapid decline in freshwater fish populations,” said Stuart Orr, the World Wildlife Fund global Freshwater Lead, in a statement. “They are the aquatic version of the canary in the coalmine, and we must heed the warning.”
Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate freshwater fish extinction. The report specifically calls for the securing and implementation of a global biodiversity agreement at the upcoming UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
“The good news is that we know what needs to be done to safeguard freshwater fishes,” Orr said.
“Securing a New Deal for the world’s freshwater ecosystems will bring life back to our dying rivers, lakes and wetlands. It will bring freshwater fish species back from the brink too – securing food and jobs for hundreds of millions, safeguarding cultural icons, boosting biodiversity and enhancing the health of the freshwater ecosystems that underpin our well-being and prosperity.”