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Freshwater life in the time of COVID-19

May 8, 2020
The Lena River Delta, Russia. Image: Daniel Coe | Flickr Creative Commons

Life has been strange for all of us over this last couple of months. From all of us at the Freshwater Blog, we wish you and your loved ones all the best during these difficult times.

Given that lots of us have limited opportunities to visit, enjoy and learn about rivers and lakes right now, we thought this week’s blog would collate some of the digital ways we can immerse ourselves in freshwater life, at least for the time being.

Happy exploring, please do feel free to drop us a line on twitter @freshwaterblog with your favourites and suggestions.

Educational resources

The UK Rivers Trust have produced a suite of online educational tools, including virtual field trips and GIS training. As in the video above, visitors can take a virtual trip along the River Eden in Cumbria, undertaking their own field investigations and reports.

Tomorrow (9th May) is World Migratory Bird Day, and this site has lots of ideas for how you can join their ‘virtual festival’, including ‘Plover Watch 2020‘ on the banks of the Great Lakes.

This talk by Line Gordon, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, discusses water as “the bloodstream of the biosphere”. The talk was published as part of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), which can still be completed for free.

Other free freshwater MOOCs include the University of Geneva’s ‘International Water Law’ course, and International Waters’ ‘Governance for Transboundary Freshwater Security’ course.

Here’s some articles we’ve found useful on understanding the role of freshwater research during COVID-19. This Science article highlights the risks to aquatic environments posed by the disinfectant chemicals used to tackle COVID-19 outbreaks. This research from scientists at the University of California discusses water treatment strategies to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic in sewage and drinking water.

This piece on the World Economic Forum website highlights the links between water, food security and COVID-19. The International Limnology Society and IGB have called for researchers to document the effects of lockdown on freshwater ecosystems under the #HealingInlandWaters tag.

Free books and journals

Many academic publishers and journals are opening access to their publications during global COVID-19 lockdown. This Project Muse page features a list of dozens of publishers who have temporarily made their content freely accessible. The journal portal JSTOR have also opened access to some of their collections.

Live streams

A scene from the Katmai Bear Cam in Alaska

Live video streams have become a valuable way for people to engage with landscapes and ecosystems during lockdown. In fact, we have the live soundscapes of a few of them playing whilst we prepare this article – very soothing!

You might want to check out an osprey nesting on the Foulshaw Moss wetland, or perhaps look and listen for bitterns at Brockholes Nature Reserve, both in NW England. Sadly it’s the wrong time of year to watch bears catching salmon on waterfalls in Katmai National Park in Alaska, but there are some incredible highlights to catch up on!

The Explore website hosts some amazing live streams of African landscapes. We love watching animals coming and going at a watering hole in Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa (at the moment there’s a warthog… but you can spot lions, leopards, black and white rhinos and buffalo, apparently).

At another watering hole in the Madikwe Game Reserve on the Marico River you might spot elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, and cheetahs along with a host of wetland birds. Crocodiles and hippos are regularly seen on this stream of the Olifants River in South Africa, whilst this camera on a watering hole in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve has infrared technology, allowing you to watch wildlife through the night!


The Blue Heart documentary explores the issue of hydropower construction on Europe’s ‘last wild rivers’ in the diverse Balkan region. Produced in conjunction with the River Watch initiative, the film is timely, informative and beautifully shot. Along similar lines, the River Film Festival organised by flow:europe and the Living Rivers Foundation hosts numerous trailers of the innovative films they have shown in the past.

The WWF Freshwater Program has a range of videos documenting their important conservation and restoration work across the world. We especially like this clip about building snow banks for endangered freshwater seals in Finland.

The Stroud Center’s Stories from the Streams series follows scientists, educators and the public in exploring the Delaware River Watershed in the USA. The stories might be local, but the issues raised are global in scope.

We love Jack Perks’ incredible underwater photography and film-making (so much so, we’ve interviewed him in the past). Watch his documentary on every UK fish above, and explore his video archive here.


We love the Society for Freshwater Science’s Making Waves podcast – this episode on freshwater research in Arizona border landscapes is especially good. The Freshwater Trust’s Freshwater Talk podcast is worth tuning into, we particularly like the episode with conservationist and artist Frances B Ashforth.

In this episode of the Science History Podcast, Ian Harrison, the freshwater specialist at Conservation International’s Moore Center for Science discusses contemporary freshwater conservation. And in this episode of People Behind the Science Podcast, Prof. Steve Ormerod (well known to readers of the blog!) discusses his life and career in freshwater research. Both are essential listens!


One of Harold Fisk’s 1944 maps of the ‘Mississippi Meander Belt’. Image from Radical Cartography

In 1944, the cartographer Harold Fisk published a series of remarkable maps of the winding historical courses of the Mississippi River as part of an otherwise technocratic report to the US Army Corps of Engineers. Each map – which can be viewed and downloaded in hi-resolution here – is like a work of modern environmental art.

The watersheds of Australia. Image: Robert Szucs

More recently, Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs has fused his skill with GIS mapping and his artistic flair to create a series of beautiful images mapping the world’s watersheds. Each watershed is denoted by a different colour, lending a kaleidoscopic – but scientifically accurate – effect to his images.

Art and music

Florida Red-bellied Turtle (Pseudemys nelsoni) in Rainbow Springs, Florida. Image: Michel Roggo | The Freshwater Project
Arowana. Image: Jacek Matysiak

We’ve featured two of our favourite aquatic artists on the blog recently: Michel Roggo and Jacek Matysiak, and their work is always worth revisiting. The UK Canal & River Trust Waterfront online magazine is worth exploring for art, sound and writing, as is the Caught by the River blog.

Finally, we’ll leave you with two and a half hours of the most beautiful soundscapes. Recorded over three years, sound artist Annea Lockwood’s A Sound Map of the Danube traces the second longest European river’s course from the Black Forest in Germany to its delta into the Black Sea. The recordings comprise sounds from the banks, from above and below the water, animals, insects, and interviews with people who live by the river.

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