Australian Associated Press (AAP) / The Age (Australia)
Monday 03 September 2007
The world’s river dolphin population is dying out thanks to bad environmental practices that also threaten the health of their human neighbours, an international environmental conference has been told.
The 10th annual Riversymposium, Australia’s largest river management conference, brings around 500 delegates from 40 countries to Brisbane from Monday to discuss river health, damming practices, drought and climate change.
WWF river dolphin initiative coordinator Anna Forslund said China’s Yangtze river, the Mekong river in Cambodia, the Ganges river in India and the Indus river system in Pakistan were among the world’s most endangered rivers as evidenced by their dwindling river dolphin populations.
Ms Forslund said many people had never heard of river dolphins, which were smaller than marine dolphins, had a longer snout and were often blind, but they were one of the most threatened species in the world with some populations now comprising between 1,000 to just a handful of wild creatures.
She said dolphin populations had been suffering from damming, overfishing, bad farming and mining practices, pollution and sewage since the 1970s.
“You can see the link, river dolphins are dependent on the water and the people are dependent on the water so the levels of toxicity is probably the same in people living there – low levels of dolphins means unhealthy water,” she said.
Outgoing WWF global freshwater program director Jamie Pittock said the case study of river dolphins was bad news for humans.
“They’re really the canaries of the rivers – if the river dolphin population is healthy then the river’s healthy,” Mr Pittock said.
“Millions and millions of people, well they’re suffering now, and they’ll suffer even more if the dolphins go extinct because extinction of the dolphins means that the rivers are terribly polluted, there’s not enough water, fish are dying and people in these countries are drinking the water from these rivers.”
He said many people did not realise humans were just as susceptible to the environment as animals.
He said around 50 WWF representatives were working in the countries to restore the health to the ecosystems by rescuing dolphins, providing farming education and reducing poverty so villagers had the resources to look after their own environments.
He said it was hoped outlining the program’s successes would prompt more scientists and financial backers from Australia to get involved.