I’ve always loved the outdoors, the mountains and ocean alike, and growing up in San Diego allowed me to explore both of these diverse ecosystems. At the University of California Santa Barbara I doubled in Environmental Studies and Biological Sciences, which gave me ample opportunity to get out in the field. This was especially true when I studied abroad in Australia, where I worked both in the rainforests and on the coral reefs. Seeing how the freshwater system that ran through the rainforests directly impacted the health of the coral reefs fascinated me. Prior to this I hadn’t given the connection between fresh water and the ocean much thought.
The ironic part about my dedication to conserving fresh water is my love for its salty cousin. Don’t get me wrong, I love exploring rivers, lakes and waterfalls and know that freshwater is our most precious and limited resource on Earth -- we can’t live without it. Freshwater is life. That alone is enough reason to be dedicated to preserving it.
However, the true driving force behind my obsession with keeping freshwater clean is my desire to keep the ocean clean. As a surfer and free diver, I know many friends and acquaintances that have contracted life-threatening illnesses from immersing themselves in contaminated ocean water. For the Source to Sea project I recently completed, partially funded by a Young Explorer’s Grant from National Geographic, I trekked and photographed the seven major watershed systems in San Diego County -- the fifth most populous county in the United States -- to document what sources of pollutants and man-made obstructions they run through on their way down to the ocean. I also conducted interviews with people involved in organizations working in the area to protect both the fresh and coastal waters.
What I found was a gaping hole in the connection between how these two ecosystems are viewed and therefore approached when it comes to conservation and management, despite how interconnected the systems inherently are. I’m still not sure the best way to overcome this. There are a few organizations in San Diego that are moving in this collaborative direction, so that is positive. Perhaps, in the near future, I’ll have to start my own organization specifically addressing this issue.
For now I plan to use the imagery I gathered from the project to demonstrate the connection between the two worlds. To show people the beauty of the backcountry that isn’t usually associated with San Diego and how the water that flows through it ends up in our oceans. The question is: how do we keep the pure snowmelt that feeds the watersheds clean by the time it reaches the sea? Any solutions we develop towards this in San Diego can be applied in major cities across the United States and potentially the world, so it is not an isolated system. I find this universal effectiveness of potential solutions very encouraging.
The Megafishes Project represents the first worldwide attempt to document and protect the planet's freshwater giants. The unprecedented use of freshwater has led to the declining populations of many aquatic species. Perhaps nowhere is this pattern more apparent than among the largest freshwater fish. Globally, a pattern has emerged; these big fish are disappearing.
Led by 2004 National Geographic Emerging Explorer Dr. Zeb Hogan, the project will span six continents and encompass expeditions to study 14 of Earth's most diverse freshwater ecosystems—ecological treasures—including World Heritage sites, Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, and United Nations Environment Program Biodiversity Hotspots. Along the way, Hogan and his team of investigators will gather information about the life history, population status, geographic range, and threats associated with each focal species, and then synthesize this information into IUCN Red List Assessments and for a meta-analysis of population and distribution trends over time. Hogan will be working with a network of more than a hundred scientists and fishermen in 17 countries, as well as local people, to examine the causes and potential solutions to the global loss of freshwater biodiversity. Researchers also hope to identify the planet's largest freshwater fish.
In the 2006 pilot year, the project team conducted expeditions to the Mekong and Selenge/Baikal (Mongolia), laying the groundwork for future missions to rivers throughout Asia, South America, and North America. These efforts have already begun to yield encouraging results. For example, Hogan's work with the governments of Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos have made the capture of the Mekong giant catfish illegal in those countries. The project has also teamed with the Cambodian Department of Fisheries and the Mekong Wetland Biodiversity Program to create one of the world's first freshwater conservation concessions—a special fishing area in the Tonle Sap River aimed at protecting some of the world's largest freshwater fish species, including the giant stingray and giant barb.
A diver shares a tank with an adult arapaima fish at an aquarium in Manaus, Brazil. Known as the pirarucu in Brazil and the paiche in Peru, this South America giant is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. Some reach lengths of more than 10 feet (3 meters) and weigh upward of 400 pounds (180 kilograms).
Large megafish like these have become rare worldwide due to heavy fishing. The arapaima is the focus of several conservation projects in South America, including no-fishing reserves and fishing quotas.
A red-crowned river turtle seems to smile in the face of uncertainty.
Habitat loss, hunting, and the pet trade have all eaten away at healthy freshwater turtle populations, leaving many species at risk of extinction, according to a newreport from Conservation International.
"More than 40 percent of the planet's freshwater turtle species are threatened with extinction—making them among the most threatened groups of animals on the planet," Peter Paul van Dijk, director of Conservation Insternational's Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program stated in a press release. "Their decline is an indicator that the freshwater ecosystems that millions of people rely on for irrigation, food, and water are being damaged in a manner that could have dire consequences for people and turtles alike."
The red-crowned turtle was once found throughout India, Bangladesh, andNepal, but because it has been harvested as food, blocked by dams, and injured by pollution, there is only a single population left, in central India's Chambal River.
The skeleton of a young Christian noblewoman, who was laid to rest on a "burial bed" some 1,400 years ago, is giving archaeologists precious clues to the earliest days of the English church.
Unearthed in 2011 in a village nearthe teenager wore the badge of her faith in the shape of an exquisite gold-and-garnet cross, found on her chest and just visible in the picture above.
The ornate treasure marks the grave as one of the earliest known Christian burials in Anglo-Saxon England, researchers from the last week.
Christians previously lived and died in Britain under Roman rule. But the newfound grave dates to the mid-seventh century, when Anglo-Saxons—the Germanic peoples who founded the English nation and language—were starting to convert to Christianity. (See more
In addition, the wooden burial bed on which the 16-year-old was placed is one of only a handful of such finds discovered in Britain, the team says.