The 30×30 initiative is a global effort to set aside 30% of land and sea for conservation by 2030, a move scientists hope will reverse biodiversity loss and mitigate the effects of climate change. Now adopted by state and national governments around the world, 30×30 creates an unprecedented opportunity to advance global conservation.
When it comes to the water side of the 30×30, most programs focus primarily on ocean conservation, but a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that freshwater ecosystems are not ‘they must neglect. Published today in the magazine Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the paper urges policymakers to explicitly include freshwater ecosystems such as rivers, lakes and wetlands in 30×30 plans, and describes how their conservation will be critical to achieving the broader goals of initiative
The importance of freshwater ecosystems
Freshwater systems provide critical ecosystem services that enable agriculture, transportation, recreation, economic productivity, and drinking water systems. They support biodiversity and also play an important role in climate resilience by storing soil carbon.
However, freshwater ecosystems are being lost at disproportionately high rates relative to terrestrial (terrestrial) systems. They are highly vulnerable to biodiversity loss and climate change, and would benefit from dedicated conservation efforts, the study authors said.
“Freshwater ecosystems are particularly fragile and often overlooked in global conservation initiatives,” he said Jessie Moravek, lead author of the study and PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM). “Many times, conservation professionals assume that water is protected just because the land around it is, but that’s not always the case. Rivers, lakes and wetlands often need special attention.”
Moravek and his co-authors suggest that while protecting rivers, lakes and watersheds is closely related to land conservation, effective conservation of freshwater ecosystems requires unique strategies. They point to recent studies showing that land-based conservation initiatives that lack explicit freshwater priorities often contribute to the decline of freshwater habitats and species. Instead, studies show that conservation efforts focused on a freshwater network and the surrounding watershed confer conservation benefits in both freshwater and terrestrial environments.
As policymakers at the state and national levels work to define what counts as conserved and develop conservation solutions and priority areas, the authors suggest that freshwater ecosystems should be considered.
Effective conservation planning
To better include freshwater ecosystems in 30×30 plans, the authors recommend designing and refining conservation programs using five specific freshwater priorities: river connectivity, watershed alteration, streamflow alteration, water quality and biodiversity. The authors emphasize that incorporating these features into planning and monitoring will help ensure that 30×30 initiatives focus on important aspects of river conservation that support the overall goals of 30×30.
“While the 30×30 programs vary in their focus, they share a mission to address climate change, economic sustainability, food security and equitable access to the outdoors,” said co-author and professor of ESPM. Justin Brashares. “Making freshwater ecosystems an explicit focus of 30×30 initiatives can help achieve these goals, while benefiting the many species and human livelihoods that depend on our vulnerable freshwater resources.”
The paper also describes watershed-oriented conservation and explains how this approach can benefit both freshwater and terrestrial environments. Planning conservation policies for entire watersheds (the land area that drains into a particular river or stream) can focus fragile freshwater ecosystems in the planning process and help water managers integrate conservation priorities identified in this study.
“Watersheds are a natural geographic way of dividing the land, which is useful for thinking about area-based conservation goals in a program like 30×30,” Moravek said.
The paper also examines the 30×30 planning process in California and recommends how freshwater might be considered at each step of the process. The state is often considered a leader in climate policy, leading the authors to suggest that the state’s 30×30 initiative may be an example of how to effectively incorporate freshwater ecosystems into 30×30 plans.
Additional authors of the paper are ESPM doctoral students Lucy Andrews, Mitchell Serota, Melissa Chapman, Amy Van Scoyoc, and Guadalupe Verta; ESPM alumni and current postdoctoral students Christine Wilkinson and Phoebe Parker-Shames; and ESPM alumna Janelle Dorcy, now an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.