Scientists uncover new information on the Douro river ecosystem

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Porto. At a press conference on July 23rd, the Douro Vivo Network launched seven studies providing new information on the Douro river basin ecosystem. Scientists and conservationists highlighted the threats to freshwater biodiversity stemming from hydropower dams and obstacles in the Douro river. Moreover, they shared approaches to restore and protect this natural hotspot.

The Douro Vivo Network is a multidisciplinary partnership of Portuguese and international academics, legal experts and conservationists with the aim to promote the protection of free-flowing and clean rivers, with a special focus on the Douro river. The Douro basin is the largest river basin in the Iberian Peninsula and heavily impacted by dams. To improve the knowledge on the impacts of existing dams (including the Portuguese Large Dam Program) and projected new dams, the Douro Vivo Network studied the cumulative impacts of hydropower on ecosystems and livelihoods.

WWF Portugal (ANP / WWF), the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO), the Mountain Research Center (CIMO) and the Centre for the Research and Technology of Agro-Environmental and Biological Sciences (CITAB) presented their reports which portray the various habitats of the Douro basin, identify existing barriers and map the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of hydropower plants.

CIBIO found that the presence of small hydropower plants deeply affect endangered pearl mussel populations. Decommissioning of dams and re-naturalization of river sections can improve the situation not only for pearl mussels but also for migratory fish populations. CITAB published an approach for prioritizing dam removal for river connectivity improvement based on a cost-benefit analysis. Furthermore, the creation of Fluvial Nature Reserves should strengthen the legal protection of the Douro’s biodiverse natural sanctuaries.

The studies have increased the level of understanding of the Douro basin ecosystem and will be used to inform decision-makers, especially feeding the current drafting process of the third River Basin Management Plan for the Douro. Moreover, the new information will be used to change public perception of the impacts of hydropower on river ecosystems and to create a movement to support river protection and restoration.

These studies (some in Portuguese, some in English) and presentations (in Portuguese) can be found on the Douro Vivo Network website:

  1. Small hydropower plants as a threat to the endangered pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera (CIBIO)
  2. Reviving Douro Basin – Identification of Biodiversity Hotspots (CIBIO)
  3. Assessment of terrestrial protected areas for the conservation of freshwater biodiversity (CIBIO)
  4. Georeferencing and characterization of the Douro River Basin obstacles – Portugal (CITAB)
  5. Undamming the Douro River Catchment: A Stepwise approach for Prioritizing Dam Removal (CITAB)
  6. Analysis of impacts and definition of minimizing measures in a reservoir located in a KBA (Key Biodiversity Area): Serra Serrada as a case study (CIMO)
  7. Douro Basin X-Ray Report (ANP / WWF)


Press coverage:

Douro Vivo Network

The Douro Vivo Network is led by GEOTA in partnership with International Union for Conservation of Nature – Center for Mediterranean Cooperation, Wetlands International Europe, WWF Portugal, and the Inducar Network. The academic partners include the universities of Porto, Coimbra, Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, Nova University of Lisbon and the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança. Wetlands International Europe’s role in the Network is to help achieve enhanced conservation, rehabilitation and sustainable use of the river Douro through lobby and advocacy at EU level and by facilitating transboundary cooperation in the basin.

Header image: View on São Domingos Mountain and Douro river © Paulo Cardoso on Unsplash