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Introduction – The WILD Water Project is establishing a global network facilitated by The WILD Foundation that is committed to marine and freshwater conservation and capable of generating international guidelines, replicable models, and practices that protect and restore wild nature while considering how human needs can be met. The WILD Water™ strategy prioritizes the protection of wild nature for its fundamental role in aquatic species survival and reproduction, quantity and quality water for drinking, health, and habitat, the productivity of fisheries, agriculture, and forestry, and recreation and cultural use.
Need for WILD Water – The deterioration of marine and freshwater environments vastly outpaces protection efforts, as evidenced by water quality decline, dead zones, rising temperatures and acidity, coastal wetland and mangrove destruction, species loss, collapsing fisheries, coral reef and living bottom die offs, invasive species takeovers, and degraded human sustenance and recreation. In many near-shore waters and on the high seas, open access prevails or catch limits are ignored as the nets, lines, and trawling of industrial fishing vessels pummel species unabated. Predatory fish mass is reduced to 90% in some places. Whales and many other species die entangled in or having swallowed discarded fishing gear. A third of coral species are going extinct, reefs are dying, and nearly a fifth of mangroves have already vanished. Culturally based, traditional marine ecological knowledge and low-impact fishing practices are disappearing along with local artisanal fishing societies. Less than 2% of the marine environment is protected, and government authorities are challenged to harmonize competing uses and claims. Where marine areas remain in wilderness or are effectively managed to protect wild nature, the diversity, individual size, density, and biomass increases across all functional groups of marine species. Needed are cooperative ethics, reciprocity, social sanctions, and incentives – based on a common understanding of what nature needs in marine and freshwater environments.
Current Project Activities – In preparation for the 10th World Wilderness Congress (WILD10, October 2013 in Salamanca, Spain), WILD is facilitating WILD Water as a coalition involving a variety of partners to organize activities resulting in achievable, measurable, and visible outcomes by enabling diverse, equitable and expert participation and generating common guidelines, policies and both visual and narrative outreach messaging (photographer/filmmaker crossover with WildSpeak). Core topics and activities are:
Marine Wilderness – Expanding the Marine Wilderness Collaborative (MWC) launched at WILD9. Research, catalog, map and define existing and needed legal tools to establish candidate marine wilderness (MW) areas or protected areas zoned for MW management through marine spatial planning. Building professional capacity to apply MW as a conservation mechanism utilizing baseline criteria for ranking priority habitat – mating, spawning, nursery and migration route areas for fish, marine mammals and other species. Identify places where MW can recover fisheries (particularly where trophic downgrading has occurred), coral reefs and other marine life, sometimes complementing innovative performance-based systems of fishermen; and understanding what can be done to mitigate external impacts (e.g. climate change, agricultural effluent, trash) using MW areas as sources of refugia and resilience.
Coral Reefs – Map lost and remaining reefs and associated local human threats to survival and recovery. Causes of coral loss, including acidification, and what mitigation is both necessary and possible; the special role of marine wilderness. Recreation, tourism, fishing and boating guidelines to protect corals.
Migratory Marine Species – Use cases of sea turtle, anadromous fish, seabird and other species to illustrate the critical connection between conservation on coastal lands, reefs, and open seas. Use cases of migratory animals crossing national borders across “the commons” to build professional capacity with tools illustrating how sources of depletion in one jurisdiction impacts another; specific risks of trophic downgrading.
Marine Debris – Status, impacts, and what can be done about marine debris (trash pollution from ships, fishing gear, on-land sources, other) and its most harmful effects (such as ingestion and entanglement) and the species/habitats most impacted and how, working with partners on an outreach toolkit and strategy. Featuring rewilding models of plastics retrieval from the ocean (including abandoned fishing nets collected by local communities), and steps toward responsible manufacture, disposal, re-use and recycling.
Land-to-Seascape Conservation – Multi-stakeholder strategies to halt/mitigate deforestation at river headwaters. Buffering impacts of agriculture on reefs and upstream freshwater pollution flows into marine environments. Anadromous fish implications. Mangrove and wetland buffers against climate change.
Freshwater Commons – River flow strategies to benefit water supply, aquatic life, floodplains, wetlands, and recreation; models of dam relicensing/demolition. Watershed protection compensation strategies. Rain-fed versus irrigation agriculture. Solutions to disappearing glaciers now “water towers” for local people.
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