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World Water Day 2013: Water as a medium for life

March 22, 2013

World Water Day is an opportunity to think about the importance of water and to reflect on what water really is. Water is not only an instrumental resource to meet the needs of humanity, but it is also a medium for life itself.

All life on Earth depends on water for its survival. Civilisations have risen and fallen around the question of water. Without water life as we know it would simply not exist. But water is not just an inert substance that sustains life. It is alive with an abundance of life itself.

Freshwater habitats cover just 1% of the Earth’s surface, but hold over 10% of all life on the planet and 35% of all vertebrates. Yet despite this, no component of global biodiversity is declining faster than freshwater ecosystems.

With 2013 marking the ‘International Year of Water Co-operation’, it is the perfect time to work together to meet the many pressing and interconnected issues relating to water.  If the needs of people and freshwater ecosystems (and the services they bring) are to be met, freshwater ecologists, economists and policy-makers must all work together. The nexus between food security, water and biodiversity, is just one of many examples of the need for water co-operation.

Leafpack in the Cuisance river, France. Photo: Nuria Bonada

Leafpack in the Cuisance river, France. Photo: Nuria Bonada

Given the interrelated and multiple roles that water plays on Earth, BioFresh member Dr. Paul Jepson from the University of Oxford asks whether “water policy should, therefore, also consider the diversity of life that inhabits freshwater ecosystems before it is harnessed, filtered and transformed into the inert substance used by humanity. The crucial question is how do we understand the relationship between water as an instrumental resource and water as the basis of dynamic, diverse and living ecosystems?”

A myriad of microscopic diatoms. Photo: Creative Commons.

A myriad of microscopic diatoms.

Today provides an opportunity to step back and reflect on the nature of water. UN Secretary-General stated today that “water holds the key to sustainable development, we must work together to protect and carefully manage this fragile, finite resource.” No-one would argue with that. But water is much more the simply a natural resource.

Look beneath the surface of this vital resource and it is transformed into another world filled with strange and fascinating creatures. Our lakes and rivers support an amazing diversity of life, from tiny diatoms all the way to us humans. These beautiful, complex webs of freshwater life often go unseen, and their importance un-noticed. However, this remarkable diversity of freshwater life is vital in supporting our everyday lives. Are we capable of creating policies to manage water not only as a resource for humanity, but also as a medium for life?


For more see the article ‘Going with the flow‘ by Dr. Paul Jepson and Rob St John.

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