Amazon Waters: Activities & Products of the Working Group
- The Working Group will analyze available data on waters, wetlands and fisheries in relation to present and expected wetland resource use, infrastructure development, and possible climate change.
- The analyses will be used to construct science-based syntheses at an unprecedented spatial scale that captures the complexity and interconnectivity of Amazonian wetlands and their critically important migratory and non-migratory fishes.
- These syntheses will be used to develop different scenarios of integrated river basin management.
- The Working Group will use the analyses to develop scenarios on how predicted changes to wetlands and fisheries could impact urban and rural populations in the western Amazon.
- The Working Group will then bring together government personnel, project investors, scientists, NGOs, and local associations concerned with aquatic resources to examine and fine-tune the recommendations and potential tradeoffs associated with each proposed integrated river basin management scenario.
Critical Questions and Activities
- Where are the highest conservation value areas (HCVA) for migratory fish? Using a series of GIS analyses, we will map and quantify the spawning, nursery and feeding wetlands most important to commercial migratory species and some of the non-migratory species valued locally. The analyses will be presented in relation to sub-basins, political units and protected areas to build a geographically dynamic view of the distribution of HCVAs. We will suggest realistic, space-based frameworks for the management of the wetlands and fisheries.
- What environmental changes can be expected to impact migratory fish populations? We will focus mainly on the potential impacts of planned dams, artificial waterways (hidrovias), hydrocarbon exploitation and deforestation associated with roads and agricultural expansion in the Andes-Amazon headwater basins and the western lowlands. Analyses will include potential downstream impacts on river flow, sediments and nutrients and, in turn, their potential impacts on wetlands and migratory and non-migratory fishes of subsistence and commercial importance.
- How will climate change affect the seasonal flood and drought cycle of the Amazon? Using existing South American climate models with specific Amazonian data and/or assumptions along with historical meteorological data, we will be able to better understand and perhaps predict expected flood and low water extremes that could impact wetlands, fisheries and rural and urban settlements.
- How will people be impacted by changes to wetlands and fisheries? Using existing data and expert opinions, we will assess the potential impacts of the scenarios outlined above on the lives of the Amazon people. Indicators will include demographics, food consumption and protein, income, employment and cultural values related to wetlands and fisheries in various sub-basins and political units.
- Based on the analyses from Questions 1-4, what are the key policy and management recommendations? Policy and management recommendations will be developed incrementally as our analyses unfold. These recommendations will be improved with the review and feedback from various critical stakeholders as the project progresses.
The working group’s multinational, multidisciplinary, and multi-institutional team of scientists has developed a new scientific understanding of the Amazon based in an unprecedented basin-wide analysis of freshwater ecosystems. Among the principal findings are:
- Flooded forests, rivers, lakes and other wetlands cover 14 percent of the Amazon Basin, not 4 percent as previously thought.
- The Amazon River Main Stem — the downstream segment or artery that receives water from its main tributaries — is itself a critical ecological unit that requires explicit management.
- The confluence of nutrient-rich rivers (whitewater rivers) and nutrient-poor rivers (blackwater and clearwater rivers) are important spawning nodes in the life cycles of migratory fish and are priorities for management and conservation efforts.
- Mapping of the life cycles of 30 of the most commercially utilized fish species shows that, overwhelmingly, migratory species are the most important.
- Andean dams in the northwestern Amazon would have far more devastating impacts than those of the southeastern Amazon. Models of the potential impacts of the proposed six largest dams in the Andean headwaters suggest that the flow of sediments that nourish the freshwater system would decrease 71 percent, and the flow of phosphorus and nitrogen would decrease 51 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
- Climate models show that significant hydrological changes related to climate change can be expected in the Amazon Basin in this century. These changes include wetter conditions in the western Amazon and drier conditions in the eastern basin, particularly increased river discharge in the western Amazon and decreased river discharge in eastern basins. The initial modeling results also strongly suggest that synergies with infrastructure could exacerbate impacts in the western Amazon.
- In the western Amazon alone, over half a million people live in or near wetlands and depend directly on the natural resources they provide. These include fish, the major source of protein for these populations, whose per capita consumption averages 30kg/year.
The Amazon Waters website, amazonwaters.org, launched in September in Spanish, Portuguese, and English and serves as a repository of data, tools, maps, images and publications, and as a collaborative space for engagement in this effort.
Among the tools that the working group has developed is the first framework for integrated river basin management available across the entire Amazon Basin. It includes a scalable GIS basin classification up to seven sub-basin levels, enabling spatially explicit analysis, management, and monitoring to be implemented at varying scales (depending on need) within a single integrated framework.
It also cements the concept of the Amazon River Main Stem as a management unit. Upcoming scientific publications will address long-distance fish migration, integrated river basin management, potential impacts of Andean dams, climate change and predicted hydrological changes, and the aforementioned spatial framework for analyzing and monitoring Amazon aquatic ecosystems.
In the coming weeks and months, we will develop scenarios and discuss management recommendations to inform critical stakeholders on urgent steps needed to ensure the integrity of this vast and interconnected river system. These recommendations will include steps to strengthen fisheries management in the Amazon River Main Stem and priority sub-basins, measures to ensure critical Amazonian wetlands are well-managed; and frameworks to minimize the environmental impacts of infrastructure and extractive industries on the Amazon’s aquatic systems
Download final product report, An explicit GIS-based river basin framework for aquatic ecosystem conservation in the Amazon.
Access the Amazon GIS-Based River Basin Framework as an ESRI geodatabase.
Visit the Amazon Waters Initiative website for access to data, tools, maps, images and publications related to the effort.
Read the SNAPP blog post: New Roadmap for Guiding Development and Freshwater Conservation Efforts in the Amazon.
Read the NCEAS Announcement about recent working group findings: Dorado Catfish Crowned Longest Freshwater Migratory Fish
Meet the Team