Submitted by Nicole Trigg, communications director, Living Lakes Canada
After multiple delays and a change in location, the UN Biodiversity Conference (otherwise known as COP 15) has finally started in Montréal, Quebec. As the host country, Canada is presented with the unique opportunity to lead the charge in biodiversity protection. This global summit has the potential to generate international collaboration toward halting and reversing biodiversity loss, including the loss of freshwater species.
From December 7-19, international partners will work towards the adoption of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This strategic vision is a global roadmap that sets targets for 2030, including the restoration of at least 20 per cent of degraded freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and the protection of 30 per cent of land and water.
While COP 15 is framed on an international stage, there’s a need to look inward at the current state of biodiversity within Canada. Of particular concern is freshwater biodiversity. As one of the countries with the most surface freshwater in the world, we know surprisingly little about how freshwater species are faring with widespread human impacts on aquatic ecosystems.
A 2021 report found that 11.7 per cent of freshwater species are “at risk”, 17.9 per cent are of “special concern,” but there wasn’t enough data to understand how well 37.9 per cent of species are doing. With monitored populations of freshwater vertebrates (including fish, birds and amphibians) experiencing the largest biodiversity decline worldwide, gathering information on freshwater biodiversity is exceptionally important.
Living Lakes Canada is helping to fill this information gap through many programs. The National Lake Blitz is one program that helps to create a ‘snapshot of lake health in Canada. By collecting temperature readings and photo observations, including wildlife sightings and invasive species, potential impacts on biodiversity can be recorded. Powered by citizen scientists, the lake blitz helps its participants understand climate change impacts on lake ecosystems. The lake biodiversity photo challenge is a popular part of the lake blitz program aimed at showcasing lake biodiversity and the impacts that threaten them.
Another relevant Living Lakes Canada program is iTrackDNA, which aims to develop biodiversity monitoring tools using environmental DNA collected from water and soil samples. This program, co-led by the University of Victoria and the National Institute of Scientific Research, uses the traces of DNA left behind by fish, and other animals in the water to learn more about where they live and what habitat they’re using as climate change continues to impact them. The tools being developed can provide rapid, less costly and more accurate biodiversity information without disturbing wildlife, to make informed conservation and restoration decisions.
Biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are twin challenges that must be addressed simultaneously. Publicly accessible programs such as the national lake blitz and iTrackDNA are important to help communities to better understand the state of biodiversity and climate change impacts. It is hoped that COP 15 will provide a space to exchange knowledge and solutions that will help realize the vision of ‘living in harmony with nature’. With that said, freshwater protection must be a priority.
Do you want to participate in the 2023 national lake blitz? Email [email protected] to pre-register.
Learn more about the iTrackDNA project during COP15 in Montreal. On Dec. 13, delegates can see the iTrackDNA presentation at the Canada Pavilion. On December 10 and 14, the public can see the presentation at the public action zone. For more COP15 event information, please visit the iTrackDNA website at https://itrackdna.ca/index.php/events/.
Living Lakes Canada is a national non-profit organization based in the B.C. Columbia Basin working towards the long-term protection of Canada’s freshwater. Visit https://livinglakescanada.ca/ for more information.