Team of malacologists in Morocco © Ghamizi
Freshwater habitats are under great pressure in northern Africa, due to the increasing water demands for agriculture, industrial development and drinking. This is clearly reflected in the high proportion of freshwater species under threat.
Furthermore, northern African freshwater biodiversity displays a high concentration of distinctive species, especially of molluscs and aquatic plants, which cannot be found in any other place of the world. However, this valuable natural patrimony is at high risk, as one fifth (21%) of its freshwater species is facing serious risks of extinction highlighting the responsibility of northern African countries to develop and implement conservation actions for these irreplaceable species.
River basins are closed systems where biotic and abiotic parts are interrelated and interact. Thus, activities directly related to human development, such as water and gravel extraction or pollution have direct consequences on the quality of the fauna and flora of the freshwater bodies. It is therefore essential to consider the ecological requirements of the freshwater species when planning and managing the hydrological resources ensuring by this the maintenance of goods and services that those ecosystems provide.
Reducing water pollution relies mainly in diminishing the use of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture, which are currently used at very high levels in northern Africa harming its fauna and flora. This problem is only resolved when linked to a change in the legislation applied to these practices. In addition, future initiatives should be taken to increase the waste water treatment facilities available and to ensure that their capacity and action are adapted to the needs.
In relation to water overexploitation, more efficient irrigation techniques such as the use of drip instead of sprinklers, and practices such as night irrigation as an alternative to reduce evaporation are recommended to prevent depletion and continuous reduction of the water table resources.
Enforcement of the current legislation is urgent, in particular preventing over harvesting of fish stocks by avoiding the use of illegal fishing techniques and ensuring the compliance with the current closed season obligations. In addition, legislation to protect threatened freshwater species (such as dragonflies or molluscs) and their critical habitats must be reinforced to prevent these highly threatened species to disappear, causing major losses of fundamental ecosystem services, like water purification.
Key Biodiversity Areas, i.e., areas with a high number of threatened and endemic species (Langhammer et al. 2007).should be identified and protected and management plans should be developed and implemented, in order to prevent the decline in species under high threat of extinction and in habitat quality. These actions will help in habitat restoration as wetlands react relatively well and quickly to conservation actions.
Effective educational programmes with special focus on children need to be implemented in order to raise awareness about the importance of freshwater species, their habitats’ conservation and the threats increasingly faced by this biome. Moreover, educational projects oriented to all the population levels about the value of water and the need of more efficient techniques for the utilization of this resource are needed. Due to the rapid development of the region, it is fundamental to provide politicians, legislators and other relevant stakeholders with key biodiversity information about the status of freshwater ecosystems and the importance of its integration in short and long term decision-making and planning.
Research efforts focusing on species for which there is currently little knowledge must be dramatically increased. A Data Deficient listing does not mean that these 124 species are not threatened. In fact, as knowledge improves, such species are often found to be amongst the most threatened (or suspected as such from available evidence). It is therefore essential to direct research efforts and funding towards these species as well as those in threatened.