Protecting the Rivers that Connect Us
Conserving riparian habitat (habitat near rivers, streams and lakes) is a key element in the protection of terrestrial and marine habitats, since these ecosystems are closely connected.
The state of river conservation in the South Caribbean is concerning. The biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems faces different levels of threats, from the wastewater that makes its way to rivers, to the deforestation of river banks, to the pollution caused by excess nitrates and phosphates used in agriculture.
These combined threats are causing a decline in the biodiversity of the riparian areas: critical habitat for sloths, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, birds and many other species necessary for the balance and health of the ecosystem. Therefore, we must protect and conserve these important areas.
- Read more: Know your Sloth Predators: The Mighty Jaguar
Caring for rivers
The care and maintenance of rivers not only helps sloths and other wildlife in the area but also directly contributes to the conservation of marine species and the protection of coral reefs.
For example, by reforesting riparian and coastal areas, we gradually reduce the amount erosion and sediment that runs down the rivers. Once this sediment reaches the ocean, it covers coral reefs and prevents the symbiotic algae (zooxanthella) that lives within them from carrying out photosynthesis.
As trees grow they also help to reduce ocean acidification by absorbing the CO2 that would be taken up by the ocean. In addition to using carbon, these trees help to absorb the excess nutrients that go down the river, that cause an excessive growth of algae on the reefs.
Moreover by planting trees, we also help to maintain a healthy and connected ecosystem for tree-dwelling species such as two and three-fingered sloths.
- Read more: Being a giant sloth in an ancient wetland
Protecting downstream ecosystems
Cleaning the areas adjacent to rivers prevents a large amount of materials and plastics from harming marine life, such as dolphins, turtles, fish etc. that often ingest plastics thinking they are food or get caught in plastic debris.
As we can see, the terrestrial and marine worlds are inextricably linked and riparian habitat plays a fundamental role in the health of both ecosystems. With the right conservation practices put in place, we can have a very positive impact not only on these vital river habitats but also on the biodiversity of the whole ecosystem.
- Read more: 7 gifts that rainforests give to humanity
-Maria Cabrera, Coral Conservation