Image courtesy of conner395 via flickr
Unless you've been living under a rock, you'd be hard-pressed to miss the continuous stream of news stories describing the threat posed by the world's dwindling reserves of freshwater. With some talking up the potential for water becoming the next "oil," it has become imperative for international NGOs and governments to focus their energy on forestalling a global crisis that could devastate developing countries. Fortunately, the WWF and Nature Conservancy have developed a handy new resource, the FEOW (Freshwater Ecoregions of the World) map, to help guide current and future conservation efforts. In addition to aggregating 10 years' worth of data on freshwater availability, the map also showcases the input of over 200 conservation scientists, who helped build a (staggering) database of 18,000 species -- including 13,400 fish, 4,000 amphibians, 300 turtles and 20 crocodile species. The map subdivides the world's freshwater systems into 426 "conservation units"; each conservation unit is composed of all the freshwater species, dynamics and environmental conditions found within a particular ecoregion.
Anthropogenic development has already placed freshwater systems in 55 ecoregions under heavy stress; over half the area in another 59 has been been lost to agriculture or urban developments. Though they only occupy 0.8% of the planet's surface area, freshwater systems hold close to 6% of all known species. The WWF's Robin Abell, who led the project, hopes the map will allow scientists and policymakers to gain a better understanding of freshwater distribution and guide more aggressive conservation initiatives.
Absent the extra government push, this map should at least help officials and NGOs re-orient their priorities and craft more effective, targeted strategies to promote freshwater habitat and species conservation in the world's most affected areas. As things stand, scientists predict that freshwater species could become extinct at a rate that is 5 times greater than that for terrestrial species. Rapidly shrinking water supplies mean two-thirds of the world's population could be facing serious problems by 2025.