In muted shades of brown or gray, river fish often go unnoticed when it comes to conservation. Inattention has a cost, with about a third of global populations at risk of extinction and 80 species already extinct, according to the report “The Forgotten Fish of the World”made in 2021 by the WWF.
This is having an impact on both nature and humans. Freshwater fish provide food for an estimated 200 million people and sustenance for 60 million, the research says – and we depend on river ecosystems for water, sanitation and energy.
“Rivers are the arteries of our planet,” said freshwater conservation biologist and photographer Jeremy Shelton. “They transport fresh, clean water from the mountains across landscapes and give us that critical resource that we are so dependent on to drink, grow and run the industry.”
Shelton, a researcher at the Freshwater Research Center in South Africa, was fascinated by river ecosystems as a child, playing in a small stream at the back of her family’s home. But realizing that other people were less intrigued by the depths, he later took out his camera, seeking to show the rich diversity of life in freshwater, and to warn of its fragility.
“It’s all about inspiring people to become more aware of the natural world around them, and once that connection is forged, to change the way they behave, act and connect to life,” Shelton told CNN .
His photographs were featured in the WWF’s freshwater report, and were widely shared on Instagram, including by actor and activist Leonardo di Caprio.
South African rivers in danger
In Shelton’s home country, river ecosystems are in urgent need of protection. Freshwater fish are the most endangered species group in South Africa, and wetland and river areas are under more pressure than any other ecosystem, according to the 2018 national biodiversity review.
The report also highlights that half of South Africa’s freshwater fish species cannot be found anywhere else in the world, so strategies to prevent population decline and minimize threats such as habitat degradation and invasive predatory species are very important. needed.
“I am witness to the increasing deterioration of river ecosystems around me, and I am moved by the opportunity to be able to work to conserve some of these systems,” said Shelton.
He is involved in a number of freshwater conservation projects, such as the Rios Críticos do Cabo project, which is focused on the preservation of endangered species such as the Pseudobarbus burchelli it’s the labeo seeberi, and outdoor educational projects that seek to connect young people with river ecosystems.
But Shelton believes images have the power to reach beyond borders, and to communicate on a global scale the beauty of nature and the crisis in biodiversity.
“Through these images and the science that comes with them, [eu quero] open people’s minds to the beauty and fragility of life below the surface of our rivers and swamps,” he said.
“I hope that by connecting with these never-before-seen worlds, people will treat them a little more kindly, and be a little more considerate about the way we live our lives and how we interact with these natural ecosystems.”
Source: CNN Brasil