Fifty-five freshwater conservation biologists, research scientists, and specialists from zoos and aquariums, from 21 countries, met in Chester, UK in November for the 4th International Zoo and Aquarium Symposium ‘Global Freshwater Fish: linking in situ and ex situ actions’. The meeting was hosted by Chester Zoo, the North of England Zoological Society and was held in conjunction with the 7th Annual Meeting of the IUCN Species Survival Commission / Wetlands International Freshwater Fish Specialist Group.
The meeting provided an unprecedented opportunity for this diverse mix of specialists to combine their skills to promote conservation of freshwater fish in their habitats; and to advance projects at public aquaria that raise public awareness and financial support for conservation, and that support conservation through species breeding programmes. Specific projects will be identified for priority species in a number of regions globally, linking in situ actions (i.e. conservation actions within the natural habitat and range of the species) and ex situ actions (i.e. actions that occur outside the habitat and range, though conservation breeding, or other mechanisms to raise awareness for and promote conservation of the species).
Professor Gordon McGregor Reid, Chair of the Freshwater Fish Specialist Group and Immediate Past President of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums stressed the important role that zoos and aquariums can play. “Each year, more than 700 million people visit zoos and aquariums worldwide – a bigger attendance than all football games! Because of this, zoos and aquariums give $350 million annually directly to field projects. What we need to know is how to take the most effective actions, in the most important areas.” The participants affirmed the important role of zoos and aquariums in supporting in situ conservation, as well as properly planned and informed ex situ programmes.
In his address to the meeting, Dr. Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, emphasized that “there is a significant and growing challenge ahead to conserve freshwater habitats and species, and it is important to consider all the options that are available to conservationists to prevent or reduce negative impacts.” Dr. Stuart attended the conference to present the results of the 10th Convention of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Nagoya in October, where the 185 countries that are signatories to the Convention agreed upon the targets for the conservation of the world’s biodiversity over the next 10 years. Greater protection for inland waters and sustainable management of inland fisheries are now, for the first time, specifically mentioned in a number of the CBD targets. This calls for a significantly increased investment in research, conservation planning, and management in inland waters.
An immediate action for the IUCN SSC/WIFreshwater Fish Specialist Group is supporting the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The Freshwater Fish Specialist Group has an extremely valuable opportunity to contribute to this Convention, specifically through advising on fish-related criteria for recognizing Ramsar conservation sites.
All participants at the meeting highlighted the desperate need for conservation action for many species of freshwater fish around the world. Results from the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM, presented by Dr. William Darwall, from IUCN’s Species Programme in Cambridge, UK, showed that the world’s freshwaters are among the most threatened of all habitats, and freshwater fish are being severely impacted. He stated: “Nevertheless, we still lack basic data on the biological diversity of many freshwater habitats around the world, and the threats they face.” More action on assessing the risk of extinction to species, as defined through the criteria used in the IUCN Red List, is urgently needed.