Photograph by Mike Fladeland, My Shot
Canada geese come in for a landing, aiming to get their feet wet despite the morning chill.
Freshwater habitats are critical for these migratory birds, which suffered from wetland destruction and overhunting in the early 20th century. In more recent years, however, the geese have proven adept at living in human-made aquatic habitats like golf courses, parks, and airports—becoming a permanent nuisance, and water quality problem, at some locales.
Fishing Lake Tumba
Photograph by Philip Reynaers, My Shot
Two young boys try their luck in the waters of Lake Tumba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The lake holds an amazing variety of fish species as well as freshwater crocodiles and hippos.
Freshwater ecosystems cover less than one percent of Earth’s surface, but house 35 percent of all vertebrate species. At Tumba, heavy human migration to Congo and largely unchecked fishing are making it harder to take a meal from the lake.
Photograph by Andy Nguyen, My Shot
A large fish proves more than a mouthful for a hungry great egret, which lost its prize soon after this shot was snapped. This big bird may be seen across much of the globe but is nearly always found near water where food is plentiful.
Great egrets depend on aquatic habitats—salt or freshwater—and find food in ponds, wetlands, streams, and tidal flats. But some of their favorite meals may soon be off the menu—40 percent of all North America’s fish species are at risk of extinction.
Photograph by Getty Images
The Everglades, also referred to as the “River of Grass,” stretches across some 7,800 square miles (20,100 square kilometers) of Florida—an area similar to the size of Massachusetts.
Home to gators, mangroves, and the Florida panther, the Everglades is one of the world’s great wetlands, but human hands have been heavy in draining and developing the region. Perhaps only 2 percent of the original ecosystem is completely intact. Up to 50 percent of the world’s wetlands have similarly disappeared.
Photograph by Chris Johns
A hippo rears its head from a leafy patch of floating plants on the Zambezi River, which runs through southern Africa.
The massive mammals spend most of their time—as much as 16 hours every day—submerged in river and lake waters that help to keep them cool. At night these “river horses” leave the water and roam overland in search of grasses to sustain their 5,000- to 8,000-pound (2,268- to 3,629-kilogram) frames.
Water Lilies and Small Fish
Photograph by George Grall
Long-stemmed water lilies stretch towards the surface, and the sun, while schools of small fish feed in their shade.
The waters of the incredible Cuatro Cienegas (Four Marshes) wetlands, in Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, come from aquifers deep underground and thus remain crystal clear. The 500-square-mile (1,295-square-kilometer) region has been isolated from other water systems for millions of years, allowing dozens of endemic species to evolve.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Photograph by Chris Johns
An eastern diamondback rattlesnake stretches across the roots of a mangrove tree in the waters of Everglades National Park, Florida.
Mangroves are specially adapted to living partially submerged in brackish waters like those found in the Everglades. These trees are one of some 700 different tropical- and temperate-plant species that call the Everglades home.
Coahuilan Box Turtles
Photograph by George Grall
To escape the hot Mexican Chihuahuan desert sun, Coahuilan box turtles chill in the waters of Laguna de los Burros.
Unique among the world’s box turtles, these endangered animals are aquatic and spend perhaps 90 percent of their day in the springs, rivers, and pools of Mexico’s Cuatro Cienegas wetlands. Only a few thousand of the turtles exist, and since the 1960s, their habitat has been cut in half by irrigation and drought.
Worldwide, freshwater species extinction rates are four to six times higher than those of terrestrial or marine species.
Water Lily and Dragonfly
Photograph by Frank Curtis, My Shot
A dragonfly in full flight heads for a floating water lily to quench its thirst. The three-foot-diameter (one-meter-diameter) lily collected rainfall and formed a small freshwater pool that proved irresistible to this insect inhabitant of Venetian Gardens in Leesburg, Florida.
Water lilies are popular ornamentals, but as invasive species they can overwhelm bodies, pushing out native species and altering aquatic ecosystems.
Photograph by Randy Olson
Fulfilling their destiny to reproduce and die, spawning sockeye salmon head up the Ozernaya River on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia.
The country’s remote peninsula holds some of the Pacific’s great salmon runs, which are popular with visiting anglers and the region’s native brown bears. But road-building for mines and natural gas pipelines in the region is also providing access to poachers who threaten salmon, bears, and other wildlife.
Photograph by Tim Laman
Thirsty mangrove roots stretch into a cool stream in Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Philippines. As its name suggests, the park boasts a large, navigable underground river that empties directly into the sea.
Relatively few humans visit the world’s underwater river systems. But by tapping their waters and subjecting them to polluted runoff from cities and farms, many of us are altering the environment of the unique creatures which call them home.
Photograph by Paul Bratescu, My Shot
A tree frog peeks from its perch in a leafy spot of Peru’s lower Amazon.
Tree frogs use aquatic habitats to reproduce by laying eggs on leaves that overhang freshwater. When the eggs hatch, tadpoles take the plunge to the waters below—where they live until they become young froglets and climb back into the boughs above.
Photograph by Michael Poliza
Flamingoes flock to the waters of Lake Abijatta, Ethiopia, and other warm-water ecosystems around the globe.
The iconic birds enjoy mudflats near salty lakes or estuaries where they dig up small aquatic creatures and filter them from the water with their beaks. Shrimplike creatures are a favorite meal—a diet rich in the crustaceans gives the birds their familiar pink color.
Photograph by Michael Haring, My Shot
Cutthroat trout, named for the distinctive red marking below their jaws, fight their way upstream to spawn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
The fish is an American original that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark described on their way across Montana in 1805. Today the fish occupies only half its historic range and is threatened by the introduction of other species, including lake trout, which eat young cutthroat, and rainbow trout, which threaten the cutthroat lineage with hybridized reproduction.
Photograph by Vincent Yu/AP
The Yangtze River’s white fin dolphin, or baiji, in China, was believed to be extinct until 2007—when evidence turned up via amateur video that the species still survived.
Scientists say the mammals plied Chinese rivers for more than 19 million years before humans radically altered their habitat by overfishing, heavy freight traffic, and pollution. If any dolphins can be found, a captive breeding program might represent the last, slim chance to save the species.
Sandra is a leading authority on international freshwater issues and is spearheading our global freshwater efforts.
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The World's Water
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A special series on how grabbing water from poor people and future generations threatens global food security, environmental sustainability, and local cultures.