Can dam removal be a solution to reverse biodiversity loss ?

Home » News » Rivers and Lakes » Rivers and lakes » Can dam removal be a solution to reverse biodiversity loss ?

As a partner in the Dam Removal Europe coalition, we are sharing below the World Fish Migration Foundation‘s reaction to the latest CMS’ report and IUCN’s red list update, written by Maria Inês da Conceiçao (WFMF).

On December 10th, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) released a report highlighting the global decline in biodiversity, with climate change identified as a major driver. Simultaneously, at the COP28 UN Climate Conference, the update on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species underscored the escalating impacts of climate change on global biodiversity. The assessment unveiled that 25% of the world’s freshwater fish species, totalling 3,086 out of 14,898 assessed species, are at risk of extinction. Besides climate change-induced challenges, the report shows that dams and water extraction impact 45% of endangered freshwater fish species. Urgent action is thus called for to assist vulnerable migratory species and safeguard healthy ecosystems.

In reaction to these alarming facts, Herman Wanningen, Director of the World Fish Migration Foundation (WFMF), emphasizes the detrimental effects of dams: “The red list is filled with many migratory fish species which means they are under pressure or almost extinct. To turn the tide, we promote the removal of unnecessary man-made barriers from rivers. By opening up rivers and restoring their free flow, migratory fish get access to their breeding and rearing grounds.”

River barriers affect the entire freshwater ecosystem and create hazards not only for nature but also for the people who rely on these ecosystems for subsistence. Recognizing the critical role of dam removal in nature restoration, WFMF has championed this approach for almost a decade. As highlighted in the latest Dam Removal Europe Annual report, the movement has steadily grown in Europe, with countries acknowledging the benefits of river barrier removal and including it as a fruitful vehicle to achieve EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy targets. By dismantling these barriers, governments can implement nature-based solutions that not only mitigate and adapt to climate change, address critical conservation priorities and help protect an important local and self-sustainable food source.

The upcoming meeting of the CMS Conference of the Parties presents a significant opportunity to address these pressing issues and prioritize actions that contribute to the preservation of migratory fish species and their habitats, such as dam removal. Happening in February 2024 just before the final vote on the EU Nature Restoration Law, the World Fish Migration Foundation and Dam Removal Europe hope that global leaders take this opportunity as a step forward to recover free-flowing rivers worldwide.