On World River Dolphin Day, WWF and Scientific Community Launch Interactive Online Platform to Support Conservation of Two of the Last Five River Dolphin Species on the Planet
The pink Amazon River dolphin is found in the Amazon and Orinoco River Basins stretching through Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Guyana. Even so, according to Faunagua in Bolivia, the Amazon River dolphin population has suffered a 55% decline just since 2007! The Tucuxi River dolphin is the smaller, grey counterpart to the Amazon River dolphin and is found in the Amazon and Orinoco River basins. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) only recognizes these two species of river dolphins in South America. However, South American scientists defend the recognition of two other species - the Bolivian river dolphin (Inia boliviensis) and the Araguaian river dolphin (Inia araguaiaensis). Data from the Dashboard is also meant to generate information to reinforce the arguments in favor of their international recognition.
The Dashboard is structured in the form of a multi-layered and interactive map. Users can combine these layers to make more detailed interpretations of the available data. Among these layers, there are records related to the distribution of species; data from two decades and 42 dolphin counting expeditions that covered approximately 47000 kilometers of water courses; spots where genetic material was sampled; sites contaminated by mercury; as well as the location of planned hydroelectric dams in the Amazon and the location of protected areas and Indigenous lands within this biome.
“Initially, the Dashboard will only be available in English so that the widest possible number of interested parties around the world can have access to the important data. However, a story map was also produced in Portuguese and Spanish to enable users from South America to have access to more user-friendly and summarized content.” - Marcelo Oliveira, a senior program officer at WWF-Brazil and coordinator of this project.
Researcher at the Mamirauá Institute, Miriam Marmontel, has been studying aquatic mammals for almost 30 years. She said that the wealth of information available through the Dashboard greatly differentiates it from other tools. “This is a very powerful platform. It compiles much of what we know about Amazonian dolphins with more accurate information about distribution, samples of genetic material, threats, and the areas where they are most protected (protected areas and indigenous territories). We can make more qualified analyzes and make better decisions to seek the conservation of these species,” she said.
The information available on the platform is the result of serious and dedicated research and is meant to be used for robust scientific support. “It is very nice that a large group of scientists has decided to share their data, to set up a regional scenario on the conservation status of the species in South America. Ultimately, our goal is for people, companies and governments to understand what problems species are facing and what issues we need to address to ensure the conservation of these animals,” Marmontel continued.
Dr. Mariana Frias of the Aqualie Institute and Federal University of Juiz de For was responsible for compiling the data for the Dashboard. She stated that the amount of information available now allows better science-based conservation decisions to be made: “We can see, for example, where the largest population groups are and where are the areas for the protection of biodiversity. With that, we have a very efficient decision support tool that can serve, for example, to measure whether these areas are actually protecting aquatic species. ”
River dolphins depend on a balanced environment; specifically good quality water and food availability. “Ensuring river water quality and the balance of fish stocks is vital not only for dolphins, but also for the quality of life of the nearly 34 million inhabitants living in the Amazon,” says Fernando Trujillo, Scientific Director of the Omacha Foundation. While dolphins are mammals, they migrate, depend on migratory fish for their food, and are negatively impacted by the same problems migratory fish face.
Notes to Editors:
About river dolphins
There are only five species of river dolphins left in the world. Yet the population of the Yangtze finless porpoise has suffered 50% decline since 2006, Amazon River dolphins a 55% decline just since 2007,2 the Irrawaddy dolphin in the Mekong 44% since 1997, and the Baiji in China was last seen in 2002 and is probably extinct. The drop is due in large part to the very same environmental destruction which is contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 - habitat degradation, pollution and climate change. Furthermore, water flow modification such as barriers and navigation projects, mercury poisoning from gold mining operations, being killed for use as fish bait, sand mining, over-exploitation and being caught as bycatch have also had significant negative impacts on river dolphin populations. Megafauna such as dolphins tend to be less resilient to changes in the environment because they are top predators of the river system, accumulating effects. Additionally, they generally require complex and large habitats, reproduce at a later stage in life and have fewer offspring.
The Dashboard initiative is the result of transnational cooperation under the South American River Dolphins Initiative (SARDI), which brings together researchers and environmentalists, including WWF from five countries (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador) for the development of conservation actions for river dolphins in South America. Created in 2017, SARDI aims to develop projects that help to understand how dolphins live and the threats they are subjected to, and thereby promote better strategies to conserve these animals and their river habitats. The following organizations are part of SARDI: Faunagua (Bolivia); Fundación Omacha (Colombia); Prodelphinus and Solinia (Peru); and Mamirauá Institute and Aqualie Institute (Brazil). WWF participates in this initiative through its offices in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
About WWF’s River Dolphin Rivers Initiative (RDRI)
The RDRI aims to stop the decline of river dolphin populations in Asia and South America, and restore and double the most affected populations. In particular, Yangtze finless porpoise and Irrawaddy dolphin populations must be increased by 4% by the end of the decade to reduce their risk of extinction. We call this our 3000 Dolphin Dream. With your help, we can bend the curve and bring these magnificent creatures back from the brink by 2030.
The River Dolphin Rivers Initiative is an excellent example of WWF’s global strategies to implement the New Deal for Nature and People. The project can help us achieve the zero-half-zero goals by lessening the impact on natural resources and increasing biodiversity across the globe.
· ZERO loss of natural habitats;
· HALVE the ecological footprint of production and consumption; and
· ZERO human-induced extinction by 2030.
WWF’s RDRI is:
· working with local stakeholders to adopt Best Management Practices reducing negative impacts on river dolphins and their rivers;
· encouraging and creating environmental flows to sustain the river’s ecological integrity and ecosystem services;
· preventing construction of dams that would impact river dolphins and prevent their migration and spawning;
· mapping all major polluting industries and identifying critical sectors in river dolphin habitats. This will develop a baseline and key industries to be targeted for adoption of water stewardship and transformation of their business practices, which will improve water quality in dolphin ranges;
· reviewing fishery policies and laws in the river dolphin range countries will be conducted, with recommendations for specific changes needed to reduce the impacts of fishing on the dolphins and implement sustainable fisheries;
· investing in improving patrolling and law enforcement in the existing 60 river dolphin protected areas. develop and systematically rollout Conservation Assured | River Dolphins Standards to ensure a robust and standardised approach to the management of river dolphins and their habitat; and
· striving for an Inter-governmental Declaration signed by 2021 as a concerted conservation effort by adopting the Global River Dolphin Strategy into national action plans and strategies.
For more information:
Marcelo Oliveira, Senior Program Officer,
A River Below, a documentary available on Netflix investigates the incidental capture of boto and fishing for piracatinga (Calophysus macropterus) which uses boto meat as bait.