By Robert Currer
For hundreds of years, the Occoquan River has supported its namesake town. Since 1775, the river has produced everything from power to food to clean drinking water. On June 4th and 5th, the town of Occoquan will host it’s annual Riverfest event to celebrate this nurturing river and promote its conservation. As a diver, you are uniquely qualified to help protect this threatened natural resource.
Why Conserve Our Rivers
Most conservation efforts spend a lot of time talking about marine environments. Marine environments make up the vast majority of our planet’s water supply. In fact, rivers and lakes only account for around 3% of the planet’s water. Yet, that figure is disproportionately small compared to the impact those rivers have on wildlife and human communities.
Rivers play a vital role in the lives of innumerable animal species. Nearly half of all fish species worldwide live in freshwater. In North America, that equates to over 800 different species. Furthermore, nearly all species of frogs, newts, salamanders, and toads spend at least a portion of their life cycle in freshwater environments. On top of that, 80% of all North American migrant birds require river habitats for nesting and migration.
Despite their miniscule global volume, rivers are the lifeblood of thousands of species including humans. Worldwide, most drinking water is derived from rivers. Without clean rivers, many communities, even in the U.S., would lack the water necessary to support human life.
Dive into Conservation
Like the world’s rivers, scuba divers are another small but mighty group. Certified divers have the skills and training to take direct action towards conservation in a way not accessible to non-divers. There are lots of ways they can use those skills to protect our rivers.
All rivers lead to the sea and, by virtue of that truth, the trash that enters our rivers ends up there. In fact, 70 – 80% of all marine debris began as freshwater debris. Divers conducting a Dive Against Debris dive can clean up a lot of this trash before it ever reaches the ocean, thereby making a global impact with just a simple dive.
Eco-tourism is a term that conjures images of expensive, far-flung destinations where visitors sleep in bungalows over the water while dining on locally sourced, fresh fruit. It can be all of those things, but it doesn’t have to be. Anytime you pay to take part in an activity that supports the environment, you are being an eco-tourist. That can mean going diving in your local quarry or lake. It can mean spending your surface intervals paddleboarding on the river. It can even mean shopping and dining in river-side communities. Anything that puts money into the economies of conservation focused places supports those waterways indirectly, even if it’s only a few dollars and a couple of hours out of your day.
Make a Difference
Our freshwater habitats supply so much more than we’ve had time to discuss here and there are dozens of ways that you can make a difference. If you want to know more about our water planet and how scuba diving can help protect our increasingly threatened environment, sign up for the Project Aware specialty course. This short course covers a wide range of simple things that you as a diver or a non-diver can do to help protect our rivers, lakes, and streams. Sign up today!