Millions of people around the world rely on wetlands for water, farming, fishing and tourism. Since 1900 more than 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared and 76% species populations have declined between 1970 – 2010.
Wetland restoration and sustainable management could be key to achieving Sustainable Development Goals calling for universal water access and reducing poverty.
Citizen Science Leaders (CSLs) on the HSBC Water Programme and FreshWater Watchers collect water quality measurements at wetlands around the world.
The East Kolkata Wetlands were designated as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’ in 2002. They are often called the ‘kidney of Kolkata’ because they are used as a natural sewage treatment for 680 million litres of raw sewage from the 120 million inhabitants of the city every day. In addition, they support people who make a living from fisheries, paddy and vegetable cultivation.
Citizen scientists sampling water at the East Kolkata Wetlands
Dr Pradeep Mehta, Research and Programme Manager, Earthwatch Institute India said: “Citizen science research will help monitor and document water quality at various locations in the East Kolkata Wetlands. The correlation between aquatic plants and water quality will help in preparing management plans for the wetlands to improve the water quality. This research will enable different livelihoods such as fisheries or the cultivation of vegetables or paddy field to be better planned and promoted.”
In Delhi, FreshWater Watchers are trained at the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. This wetland area, designated as an International Bird Area by Birdlife International, is a key habitat for migratory birds.
Dr Ritu Singh, Lead FreshWater Watch scientist in Delhi, demonstrates water sampling techniques
However, numbers of migratory birds visiting the site have declined massively over the last decade, from about 10,000 to 3,000-4,000. It is thought that increased human impact upon the area—in particular, declining water quality in the river due to pollution, may be one of the key reasons for the loss of bird numbers.
FreshWater Watchers explore the link between water quality, habitat loss and bird abundance and diversity within the sanctuary on the Yamuna River.
Dr Mehta explains: ”The citizen science water quality research will help in influencing policy-makers by providing data on water quality and its correlation to bird population. This bird sanctuary is important to the people of Delhi for its aesthetic and cultural value as this is the nearest bird sanctuary for Delhi residents to go bird watching and see migratory birds during the winters."
FreshWater Watchers in Xochimilco take their training on the chinampas, a traditional land plot system surrounded by canals in the wetlands used since Aztec times. The Xochimilco wetlands help filter water, protect against storms and are home to native axolotl salamander, crayfish and over 140 species of migrating species.
FreshWater Watchers sampling water in Xochimilco
However, they have been significantly degraded by intensive modern agricultural practices. The introduction of exotic fish has affected food chains causing a collapse in the populations of native species and migrating birds.
Professor Elsa Valiente Riveros, Lead FreshWater Watch scientist in Mexico said: “People in Xochimilco have very strong ties to the wetlands, thanks to their parents or grandparents, they know how landscape has changed since 20 or 40 years ago.
“They want to preserve their chinampas and the canals because they need good water quality for crops and also because they would like to see the axolotl and other native species again.”
The goal is to provide data to policy-makers and educate local farmers on sustainable agriculture that will enable the chinampas to be restored for the native axolotl salamander, acocil crayfish species and migrating birds.
Prof. Riveros added: “Our ancestors recognised its importance and had taught people to be respectful of water. However, at some point in Mexican history this knowledge has got lost and, in a very short time period, we have turned water into a very scarce resource.
“Now we need to bring back water to the national agenda as an issue of national security; now we need to know how to take care of water and how to preserve it.
“Even though citizen scientist groups are small compared with Mexico City’s population, if they share their experience and knowledge, the preservation of the wetlands will defeat the urbanisation interests."