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Rivers are our Earth’s arteries
They are lifelines for millions of people, animals and ecosystems –
and all of them ultimately lead to the ocean.
Our seas and oceans have no choice but to receive what rivers bring them. Ideally, this gift will include the sediments and nutrients that are vital for coastal ecosystems, biodiversity, and the basis of the ocean food chain. But in our modern world it too often also includes toxins, heavy metals, raw sewage, plastic waste … whatever moving water picks up on its journey.
Which is why we are celebrating these brave River Warriors who dedicate themselves to restoring, protecting, recognising and defending our precious river systems.
For over five decades, Riverkeeper has worked to protect and restore the Hudson River, and to ensure drinking water supplies and ecosystems are resilient to climate extremes. Riverkeeper began as a group of scrappy fishermen taking on corporate polluters, and scaled up to include scientists, attorneys, and advocates defending fish and marine life, public health, and the fundamental rights of the river at a time of global climate and ecological crisis. Riverkeeper spearheaded the cleanup of the PCB pollution that turned 200 miles of the Hudson’s tidal estuary into the United States’ largest Superfund site. It also led the fight to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which killed billions of fish each year, and helped craft legislation to prevent planned discharges of radioactive wastewater into the river. Riverkeeper continues to work to stop billions of gallons of raw sewage discharging into the Hudson. Through efforts to remove obsolete dams, Riverkeeper heals the ecosystem and supports the life of all who rely on the Hudson River. Learn more on their website, join their email list, and follow them on Facebook, X, Instagram, and YouTube.
Watershed Investigations delves deep into all aspects of the water crisis. The nonprofit investigative journalism initiative is led by environmental journalist Rachel Salvidge and filmmaker and broadcast journalist Leana Hosea. The pair are committed to spotlighting critical water-related issues from pollution, drought and flooding to environmental justice, policy and public health. Though still in its infancy, four of Watershed's investigations have been published in mainstream media so far, covering chemical, sewage, and farm pollution, as well as water resources. The duo's dedication to uncover the truth, combined with a commitment to championing viable solutions, was rewarded in July when Watershed, alongside the BBC, won the Association of British Science Writers award for an episode of Radio 4's Costing the Earth program that exposed the story of PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) pollution in the UK. Based in London but with a global focus, Watershed Investigations strives to be a beacon of ethical journalism, delivering rigorous, evidence-based reporting on the water crisis. Learn more about their current investigations on their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram. You can also follow Rachel and Leana’s individual Twitter accounts to stay up to date.
RiverRecycle stands at the forefront of change, combating plastic pollution, and fostering lasting positive transformations in rivers and communities worldwide. Established in Helsinki by Anssi Mikola, RiverRecycle now tackles river pollution in nine countries including Ghana, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, enabling local municipalities to manage plastic waste efficiently, creating equitable employment, and stimulating the economy by creating a self-sufficient process through recycling systems . RiverRecycle is committed to installing 500 river cleaning solutions in the next eight years, preventing up to 60% of river-borne plastic waste from entering the ocean.
One such project, in Indonesia, installed a river-based collection system to halt the flow of plastic into Bandung from the Citarum River, and in Kpeshie Lagoon, Ghana. Both projects involve recycling and reusing the collected plastic, and aid in the establishment of a closed-loop economy. Learn more about RiverRecycle on their website and follow them on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.
The River Olympiad is an annual event that brings together thousands of students across Bangladesh to contribute their ideas and efforts towards river conservation. It’s just one of many projects by Riverine People, a dynamic, youth-driven civil society movement that champions the protection, restoration, and sustainable management of rivers, estuaries, and inshore wetlands in Bangladesh. Since 2010, this spirited activism group, founded by Sheikh Rokon, has helped to build a deep connection between communities and the waterways they rely on, using multiple approaches such as youth engagement, citizen science, and multi-stakeholder consultations. Operating across Bangladesh's eight divisions and collaborating with top universities, Riverine People plays a pivotal role in building trans-boundary consensus for effective river basin management. By conducting research projects, water quality testing, and community engagement initiatives, Riverine People nurtures a strong sense of stewardship and responsibility for the waterways that sustain ecosystems and livelihoods. Learn more about Riverine People on its website and follow on Twitter and Facebook.
Fionn Ferreira is an innovator, inventor, and founder of the Green Journey Coalition. Fionn pioneered a crucial solution in the battle against plastic pollution, born from his desire to restore oceans, rivers, and lakes, and allow the harmonious coexistence of ecosystems and communities. His Microplastic Environmental Cleaning Technology® (MPEC®) device will be reshaping wastewater treatment plants to combat plastic contamination in water bodies. MPEC® leverages a unique mixture to extract microplastic particles from water, achieving an impressive 87% removal rate for particles under 2mm. Fionn's numerous honours include the 2023 European Young Inventors Prize, recognition at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition, and a spot on Forbes' 30 under 30 list. Under Fionn's leadership, Green Journey Coalition is uniting efforts to combat microplastic pollution. With support from Robert Downey Jr's Footprint Coalition, Fionn and his team aim to transform MPEC® into a global force against plastic pollution. Learn more about the mission of Green Journey Coalition here and stay up to date on Fionn’s transformative work on his website or by following him on Twitter and Instagram.
Anne Poelina, a Nyikina Warrwa Indigenous woman from the Kimberley region of Western Australia, is the founder and chairperson of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council. As a passionate River Warrior and a guardian of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River, Anne is a resolute advocate for the river's recognition as a living ancestral being. Her profound connection to the Martuwarra drives her to educate, advocate, and amplify the voices of rivers globally. Her work spans diverse fields, from academia to filmmaking, and policy development to community engagement. With decades of dedication to Indigenous, human, and environmental advocacy, Anne's commitment is reflected in her research, academic achievements, and active roles in advisory committees. She serves as the Co-Chair of Indigenous Studies and a Senior Research Fellow at the Nulungu Institute, University of Notre Dame Australia. Anne’s legacy is a testament to her unwavering devotion to rivers, Indigenous heritage, and the interconnected well-being of lands and waters across the world. Learn more about Anne on her website and the Martuwarra Fitzroy River here.
In 1966, folk musician and activist Pete Seeger was in despair that the beloved Hudson River was near death from decades of industrial pollution. After reading A Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962) and Sloops of the Hudson by William Verplanck and Moses Collyer (1908) he announced plans to “build a boat to save the river”. The sloop Clearwater, launched in 1969, is among the first vessels in the United States to conduct science-based environmental education aboard a sailing ship, creating the template for environmental education programs around the world. Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. was the first environmental group to focus on an entire river and its ecosystem, the first wooden sailing ship with a mission to preserve and protect the environment, and the first onboard environmental classroom accessible to children of all ages, races, and backgrounds. Clearwater's signature “Sailing Classroom” provides a powerful platform for students to learn about the river’s natural and cultural significance. Onshore “Tideline” programming along the Hudson River, as well as in-classroom programs at local schools, brings the Hudson River to students throughout the watershed, forging a connection with nature that lasts a lifetime. Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. empowers Hudson Valley communities to ensure that polluters are held accountable, industrial development is curtailed, and laws are enshrined to protect the river. To date, more than half a million people have experienced their first real look at an estuary’s ecosystem aboard the Clearwater. Learn more on their website, and on Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn,Facebook, and YouTube.
Food & Water Watch (FWW) was founded in 2005 to champion healthy food, clean water, and a livable climate, and to stand up to corporations that put profits before people. The organization’s focus is long-term systemic change, but it also develops shorter-term campaigns to take on pressing national, state, and local issues. One of these is Save the Hudson, in response to a proposal to dump radioactive waste from New York’s decommissioned Indian Point nuclear power plant into the Hudson River. Along with other contaminants, the wastewater contains highly radioactive tritium, poses serious threats to the Hudson River ecosystem, as well as the seven towns and 109,000 people that rely on the river for their drinking water source. Working together with groups like Riverkeeper, FWW’s organizing and educating campaign called on New York’s elected officials to stop the proposed dumping, insisting that Holtec International, the company in charge of the decommissioning process, should allow wastewater to safely break down onsite at the plant. After a resolution drive along the Hudson River, which included multiple rallies in Albany, New York City, Ulster and Westchester counties, the Senate unanimously passed the Save the Hudson Bill, which would ban the dumping of radioactive waste in the Hudson. The bill now awaits the NY Governor’s signature – while wastewater is still scheduled to be released in August/September 2023. UPDATE: The save the Hudson Bill was signed by the Governor on 18 August and passed into legislation. Great news for the Hudson River! Find out more on the FWW website, or follow FWW on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.
Water is life, and in times of changing climate, humanitarian crises are too often caused by too much or too little of it – as the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) knows full well. This informal network of organisations and individuals works on issues related to the water sector with a special focus on large dams in India and South Asia. Started in 1998, SANDRP’s activities include monitoring, research, documentation, networking and awareness building amongst organisations and communities, specifically as regards the environmental and social impacts of dams, hydropower and such other river-affecting interventions. SANDRP's broad objective is to ensure that democracy, people and environment get their due place. Find out more about the crucial work SANDRP does on its website, and follow the organisation on Facebook and Twitter.
As the captain of the Haunui waka, an oceangoing canoe, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr embarked on a global mission alongside other Māori tribal leaders and Indigenous representatives to engage in meaningful discussions about the importance of water, and advocate for its responsible stewardship. When Hoturoa co-founded Te Toki Voyaging Trust over 30 years ago, he hoped to revive the knowledge and practices of traditional waka sailing to create a deep appreciation for precious resources among young minds. The trust has since expanded and now brings mātauranga waka (canoe knowledge) back to life through educational programmes for young people. One of the trust's recent endeavours is Kura Waitī, an educational program designed to reconnect uri (descendants) to their ancestral Waikato river through the practice of mātauranga waka, river care, and learning about the unique river ecosystem. Te Toki Voyaging Trust aims to expand their programme to mainstream schools in future.
In Sept 2010, after seeing the “once pristine Wairua and Mangakahia Rivers turn into polluted ditches”, Millan Ruka and his uncle Henry set up Environment River Patrol-Aotearoa (ERP-A) in New Zealand. The problem was cattle, and damage caused by effluent, nutrients and sediment from dairy and beef farms, which travelled from the upper catchments all the way down to Kaipara Harbour – and affected, among other things, migrating breeding eels. As part of the solution, Millan initiated hundreds of kilometres of fencing to exclude stock from waterways. His latest campaign centres on improving waterways around the country – including the Wairua River – with a new nitrate detection sensor project. As Poroti Springs Coordinator for Whatitiri Māori Reserves Trust, Millan continues to advocate for the values of his hapu of Poroti and Mangakahia to be recognised in improving water quality. In 2018 Millan was presented with the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Known as Kru Thi or ‘teacher’, Niwat Roykaew is a devoted champion of the Mekong River. He was working as a school teacher in Chiang Khong, Northern Thailand, when he began to witness the ecological issues around him. Together with other grassroots leaders he co-founded Chiang Khong Conservation Group to create pioneering community-led environmental work. Through the Mekong School on local knowledge he educates and inspires learners locally and globally. Niwat also collaborates with communities, civil society and academia to protect the Mekong River’s rich ecosystems and resources. His campaigns include action against the downstream impacts of Chinese dams and the opposition of new dams in Laos that directly threaten the river’s ecology. Niwat’s efforts have so far led to the cancellation of the Mekong ‘rapids-blasting’ project, safeguarding fish habitats, local livelihoods and culture. Niwat believes in the Mekong River's collective ownership, offering non-profit river tours and bird-watching activities to deepen appreciation for its natural heritage.
Stay informed on Niwat’s work on Facebook.
Painter and photographer Fredericka Foster raises awareness about water's profound impact on our socio-economic, environmental, and subconscious realms. In the 1970s she witnessed firsthand the transformative power of water on the Duwamish tribal members on the Seattle River. When the government condemned the tribe’s houseboat homes and adjoining ancestral lands, she supported their peaceful protests with a letter-writing campaign. In 2000, Fredericka began exhibiting paintings of water in NYC. Invited to curate a six-month exhibition at the Garrison Institute above the Hudson River as part of the ‘Pathways for Planetary Health’ initiative, she chose the theme of rivers. Ten international artists from her collective Think About Water, collaborated to underscore the threats faced by our freshwater ecosystems, and to ignite transformative conversations about the managing water for our common good. Follow Fredericka’s work on Instagram.
A professor and passionate freshwater ecologist, Carri LeRoy has dedicated her working life to unravelling the intricate relationships between riparian forests (those which are adjacent to a body of water) and streams. Her extensive research focuses on the energy exchange between leaf litterfall and streams, specifically how the former may influence a stream’s function. Leaf litterfall refers to the debris ‘litter’ which falls from dead plants and leaves. A faculty member at The Evergreen State College in Washington, Carri received the Presidential Award for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in 2021. As a mentor to over 1,800 undergraduate students since 2006 she is driving scientific understanding and inspiring future generations of environmental stewards. By focusing on these often-forgotten interactions within nature, Carri sheds light on ecological processes at play in newly formed environments and nature’s dynamic structure.
The Bronx River was once a symbol of urban decay, little more than a polluted dumping ground. Today it is a green oasis in the midst of New York City, a place for recreation, rest and restoration, a proud success story and a tribute to those who saw the river for what it once was, and could be once again. Recognising that a river’s voice is made up of many organisations and individuals, the Bronx River Alliance partners with dozens of community-based groups, regional non-profits, businesses and government, in order to protect, improve and restore the river corridor and sustain a healthy ecological, recreational, educational, and economic resource for all the communities through which the river flows. Historically, low-income and communities of colour along the River’s southern reaches received the fewest resources to restore the most abused portions of the river and its watershed. The Alliance works to link the northern and southern parts of the river, both ecologically and socially, following principles of sustainability, transparency and self-determination. Watch this video and discover how a community reclaimed its river, and visit their website.
Meridel Rubenstein is an American artist, photographer and Project Director of the Eden in Iraq Wastewater Garden Project. The project is located in the Mesopotamian Marshes of Southern Iraq, formed by the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, in what were once the largest wetlands in the Middle East. The marshes were drained when Saddam Hussein turned them into a charred desert, and ever since they have faced sewage pollution, dams, the withholding of water by political players and increasing global temperatures. Meridel leads an international team that is building a 10 acre wastewater garden, a public art and cultural heritage site that will bring clean water, health, and beauty back to the distressed region. The design of the garden celebrates the enduring ancient Marsh Arab culture. Through her captivating photos, Meridel also showcases the resilience of the Marsh Arabs and the environmental hardships that have taken place. She is committed to regenerating the marshes and uplifting the people of Iraq, working alongside Nature Iraq NGO to restore and rejuvenate Iraq and its neighbouring regions.
Stacy Levy is an eco-artist who works with environmental processes and delves into the intricate nature of water in its many forms. Using a blend of sustainable design and ecological concepts, she harnesses the ephemeral changes of tides, flow, seasons and weather, revealing the hidden dynamic of rivers through sculpture. Her installations, like Tide Fields (2018) in Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill River, showcase the six-foot tidal fluctuations in minute-by-minute action. In Diatom Lace (2023), Stacy captures the delicate patterns of micro-algae living in New York’s East River, celebrating their forms in the concrete paving stones for the East Midtown Greenway. Recently, Stacy unveiled Tide Flowers (2022), a captivating water installation at Brooklyn’s Domino Park, which visually registers the rising and falling tide on the East River. Through her artistic congruity, Stacy bridges the gap between science and art, between the static nature of sculpture and the fluidity of water. Her work brings the wonders of the natural world to an urban environment and connects us to the rhythmic cycles of nature that we often miss.
River Action UK strives for a future of thriving rivers. Though still in its infancy, the environmental body has led an impressive number of successful and high-profile campaigns since its launch in 2021. It is dedicated to rescuing Britain’s rivers though exerting pressure on industrial and agricultural producers, water companies and government-funded environmental agencies. Their work highlights the toxicity of agricultural, sewage and chemical pollution in rivers while empowering communities to protect their rivers and mobilising public opinion to influence policy. River Action UK’s recent ‘Double the Dosh’ campaign received 65,000 signatures and was presented to Defra and the Treasury in May 2023 (as we go live they are still awaiting a response). In the meantime, River Action has established the Charter for Rivers campaign, which spells out exactly what political parties need to do to restore the UK’s rivers to full health for people and nature. Action includes adequate government funding for restoration and regulation to hold polluters accountable.
FoLAR was created out of an act of defiance. In 1986 its founder, poet and activist Lewis MacAdams, cut a hole in the fence that had separated the Los Angeles River from Angelenos for over 50 years, and declared it “open to the people”. Since that day, FoLAR has acted to restore just and equitable public access and ecological vibrancy on the LA River, and ensure that it is a source of life and opportunity for all its inhabitants. FoLAR continues to work toward their goal of bringing the People to the River and the River to the People through K-12 education that prioritizes schools of high need and serves thousands of students each year, as well as through volunteer events like their annual CleanUp that removed over 55,000 pounds of trash from the River in the past year, community events like River Fest that celebrate the connections between art and nature, and local advocacy.
“Empowering communities and protecting the environment by fighting plastic pollution at the source through Innovation and Education.” That is the mission of The Litterboom Project (TLP), a South African NGO working to keep plastic out of rivers and, ultimately, the ocean. They are active in ten rivers around South Africa, and have been instrumental in keeping 500,000 kg of plastic out of those waters. TLP works on three core principles – interception, education and innovation. The first involves stopping pollution at source and restoring ecosystems back to their natural state. They work together with reclaimers, ‘the backbone of recycling in South Africa’, and create economic opportunities for people living in informal settlements. Their second focus involves not just educating the public – especially youth – but also providing infrastructure to help people act on what they learn and make tangible changes. And finally, TLP works to create jobs and build a circular economy through innovation, as through their ‘Wastepreneur Programme’.
José Manuyama Ahuite is a passionate advocate for the protection of rivers, and member of the Water Defence Committee in Iquitos, Peru. A school teacher by profession, José played a pivotal role in leading the successful battle against oil exploitation in the Nanay River, a critical water source for over 500,000 people. His commitment extends to the ongoing struggle against destructive illegal mining activities that threaten the river's integrity. As complaints go unheeded by authorities, José continues to pen articles in national and international media and via his blog, "A Viva Voz Iquitos". In recognition of his efforts, José was honoured as an Environmental Defender by the Peruvian legislative congress in 2017. José is driven by a vision of safeguarding nature and preserving the vibrant cultural heritage of his people, the Kukama indigenous peoples, one of 51 officially recognised in the Peruvian Amazon. "Water is part of our culture, it is intrinsic to the Amazon.”
Stay updated on José and the Water Defence Committee’s work on Facebook.
Barrister and founder of Lawyers for Nature Paul Powlesland is a dedicated River Warrior. He has actively collaborated with local groups to draft Rights of Rivers declarations and is currently involved in drafting a UK Rights of Nature bill. His commitment extends to practical action too as he fights to protect the River Roding, which is quite literally his home – he lives on it on his boat. Paul founded the River Roding Trust to protect and restore this vital London river, and instil a sense of love and care among its local communities. Recent activities include challenging illegal sewage dumping, organising volunteer cleaning and tree planting along. Paul recently completed an extensive mapping project of the river, providing crucial data for its protection, restoration, and the upholding of its rights.
India Rivers Forum (IRF) is a vibrant network of organisations and individuals committed to restoring rivers in India which have been dammed, diverted, polluted and encroached. At the heart of their initiative is the annual India Rivers Week conference, which brings together experts, activists, officials and communities to discuss topical river-related themes, issues and solutions. Since its inception in 2014, the event has covered topics as diverse as river health assessments, the threat of sand mining and the state of urban rivers around the country. In 2022, the India Rivers Week theme ‘Rivers as waterways in India: bane or boon?’ celebrated the historical use of rivers as waterways, looked at their current viability, and explored a future where participatory, ecosystem-based solutions are prioritised over the current centralised, infrastructure-based approach. There are already encouraging examples in place, and the IRF hopes to roll out more of these environmentally sensitive approaches across the country for the betterment of its rivers.
Read more about IRF’s work here.
Hannelie Coetzee is passionate about tackling water pollution through a unique blend of research, green infrastructure, and art. The Johannesburg-based visual artist and professional photographer co-founded Water for the Future, a charity dedicated to restoring rivers through art and design as crucial tools for advocacy, expression, and co-education. A self-titled ecological artist, Hannelie uses public spaces for her artworks, which contemplate and intervene in the effects of man-made systems on the natural environment, and attempts to engage the communities and connect them to nature. “We need to re-learn the logic of nature in order to continue mindfully.” She is an honorary research fellow at the University of Witwatersrand’s Global Change Institute.
Waterman Rok Rozman grew up kayaking the rivers of Slovenia. After studying biology at the University of Ljubljana, he travelled the world with his whitewater kayak – and found troubled and threatened rivers everywhere. Rok founded Balkan River Defence (BRD) and the Leeway Collective NGO, which he describes as “the confluence of sport, river conservation, film production and common sense”. The collective promotes protecting the last remaining wild places of Europe, and challenges the perspective that hydroelectricity is green and sustainable energy – “A river is worth more than just the power it can produce spinning a turbine.” BRD is currently resisting new dams in Slovenia’s Sava River, one of the better-preserved rivers in Europe, the largest tributary of the Danube River (in terms of flow), and the longest Slovenian river, running 221 km from its source in Zelenci near the Italian border to the Croatian border. This hotspot of European biodiversity is home to 250 species of nesting birds; the collective is currently producing documentaries and gathering wildlife data to be used in the courtroom.
An Iraqi environmentalist and civil engineer, Azzam Alwash dedicated much of his career to restoring and protecting the wetlands and rivers in his home country. His work in the region focuses on environmental preservation, and under this umbrella he founded Eden Again, a program spotlighting the drying marshes of southern Iraq. He also founded Nature Iraq, the first environmental conservation group in the country which tackles trans-boundary water issues, water policy and advocates for the reduction of dams causing damage to rivers and their communities. His efforts to restore the marshes in southern Iraq, which were destroyed during Saddam Hussein’s regime, earned him the Goldman Environmental Prize. The Waterkeepers Iraq – a member of the broader Waterkeeper Alliance – was started as a project within Nature Iraq. Through this Azzam and Nature Iraq aim for cooperation on water and energy management, to create conditions that will lead to economic cooperation regionally and reduce tensions in the Middle East.
Tiffany Higgins delves into the stories of Indigenous and traditional peoples in the Brazilian Amazon, around the Teles Pires, Tapajós, Xingu, and Tocantins rivers. As a Fulbright scholar in 2022, Tiffany explored the Tocantins River to uncover the impacts on traditional communities of a proposed government industrial project threatening to turn the river into a commodities channel for agribusiness, mining, and cattle exports. Her work has received the support of the Pulitzer Rainforest Journalism Fund. She is currently writing a book investigating the proposed project, documenting Tocantins River peoples' little-covered lifeways, fishing and cultural practices, following them as they resist the industrial channel. Collaborating with community partners is essential to Tiffany’s process, as she strives to unveil hidden truths about the Amazon. Discover her work here.
Mark Barrow has spent the last four years filming the entire 81-mile length of the River Wharfe in the UK. A dedicated river campaigner, Mark documents underwater pollution and, in collaboration with local advocacy groups, his footage helps to raise awareness of the devastating impact sewage pollution has on UK rivers. His passion for freshwater environments and skill as an underwater filmmaker will materialise in his upcoming 2023 documentary, which captures the hidden beauty of rivers and their vibrant ecosystems with an emphasis on nurturing them back to full health to protect their biodiversity. Find project updates on his Twitter or on Facebook.
Eugeni Castejon has been an environmental entrepreneur since the age of 19. He is now a professor of sustainability and circular economy at the Institute for Public Security of Catalonia and EADA Business School, and founder of the Clean Rivers Hub. The catalyst for his organisation was the realisation that 95% of ocean pollution arrives via rivers. To put an end to this situation, action was needed upstream – so he started networking. “I saw that data and solutions already existed … but there was no meeting point to promote hybridization and cooperation, and to multiply the capabilities of all those who act in ecosystems for the good of all. I asked myself: if these initiatives deserve the support of the whole society, why don't we give it to them?” The result was “a global HUB of shared knowledge and experience, accelerating the clean-up and conservation of freshwater ecosystems.” Find out more about this solutions-based organisation and the positive impacts it has already achieved – including a pilot project in Tarragona with the support of the chemical industry and public administrations, which they hope to replicate worldwide.
Visionary New York-based artist Mary Mattingly harnesses the power of interdependent living river systems to promote urban sustainability. By merging art with environmental stewardship, Mary's creations encourage a deeper understanding of and connection to the water sources that shape our lives. Her work explores the literal and metaphorical connections between urban dwellers and the rivers that run through their cities; she seeks to build coalitions of people who support public commons and acknowledge water as a human right. Her creation of human-made ecosystems offers visitors a multisensory experience and an insight into the delicate balance of biodiversity. Mary's recent projects include "Wading Bridge," an interactive installation in Des Moines, Iowa, and "Swale," a public floating food forest in New York City that offers free fresh food and fosters conversation about public food resources. Read more about Mary’s visual art on her website.
Born and raised in Ghana, Yvette Tetteh is a passionate environmentalist and swimmer on a mission to raise awareness about the impact of the textile industry and second-hand clothes trade on waterways. She spent her youth swimming in the Volta River, a lifeline for generations of Ghanaians, and soon began to notice the impacts of human activity on her environment. She joined forces with The Or Foundation to organise the Agbetsi Living Water Expedition: their latest project is a journey down the Volta river to learn about the impact of synthetic microfibers on river ecosystems and communities. Yvette hopes to build on existing research in the field, to identify alternatives to dominant business models and shape a more sustainable future to protect Ghana’s natural resources for future generations. Follow along with the expedition on Instagram.
After noticing the decline of wildlife around his Cotswolds home, Peter Hammond and his neighbours set up Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) in 2018. A former computational biology professor at University College London, Peter is a dedicated advocate for clean rivers. Utilising his expertise in machine learning, Peter repurposed his software to analyse sewage data, discovering numerous unreported instances of raw sewage venting into watercourses. His findings have exposed the river pollution scandal locally and nationally, and have led to an increased awareness and action regarding water industry profiteering and weak regulation causing water quality degradation. “My contribution has been to analyse the data and shine a light on water industry performance and regulatory control. Government is responding, but it may be too little too late to protect aquatic ecosystems for future generations.” Peter’s work continues to influence the environmental policy sector, as he pushes for improvements in water quality and industry regulation. Read more about WASP’s findings here.
Andreas Fath believes scientists should be activists – and he knows what he is talking about, because he is both. The co-founder and Managing Director of H2Org is a professor of chemistry at the Furtwangen University in Germany. He is also a dedicated swimmer, which means his activism happens around rivers. In 2014 Andreas swam the entire length of the Rhine, and in 2017 he swam the Tennessee River in the USA, in both cases highlighting the need to address pollutants which end up in rivers from wastewater or because of inadequate sewage treatment plants. Last year (2022) as part of his Cleandanube project, Andreas swam 2700 km down the Danube river, from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. During the swim he took daily water tests, conducted workshops and met with scientists and activists – and he plans to do the same with the Elbe river next year. "Young people need to be sensitised to what can be done to keep bodies of water clean," says Fath. Read more on his campaign for a plastic-free environment and living waters, and explore his series of talks, on his H2.org website.
A Colorado River kayaking trip through the Grand Canyon changed Ruth Mathews’ life. After witnessing the impacts of a dam on the river’s flow, beaches and wildlife, she dedicated her career to water issues – with an emphasis on protecting whole systems. Her first project involved protecting the “immensely biodiverse and productive” Apalachicola Bay on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. “I tried to create an understanding amongst actors upstream, such as big cities, farmers, and hydropower dam operators that their choices affect life and livelihoods downstream.” Over 30 years Ruth has conducted expert reviews on river species, led freshwater conservation programs, and participated in various negotiations around how rivers are used and altered. As senior manager at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) Ruth works with the holistic source-to-sea approach, which recognises that decisions in any one part of a river affect the system as a whole. Read more about Ruth’s work on LinkedIn and watch her interview at the 2023 UN Water Conference.
Sneha Shahi is a young environmentalist on a mission to protect the rivers of India and the communities that rely on them. Through her work with the Plastic Tide Turners campaign, Sneha mobilised volunteers to help restore the Bhukhi River. Together they collected 700 kgs (and counting) of plastic and solid waste from just 800 metres of river, which led to an increase in sightings of native species in the area. Sneha has fought to increase awareness about freshwater ecosystems and conducted research on the anthropogenic stress to the Bhukhi river due to improper urban planning, bank encroachment and the release of untreated domestic sewage. Her current work involves bringing native biodiversity back to the Tamiraparani River through initiatives which aim to increase environmental awareness among youngsters and provide them with a platform for local stewardship. Stay up to date on Sneha’s progress on her Twitter.
Basia Irland’s projects are not about the ‘commercial art world’, but rather about “connecting diverse, multi-generational communities directly to their local waterways”. Basia creates exceptional art around international water issues – particularly rivers – collaborating with scholars from diverse disciplines, connecting with communities and fostering dialogue, filming and producing water documentaries, and facilitating waterborne disease projects around the world. She is a Fulbright Scholar and Professor Emerita, Department of Art, University of New Mexico, where she founded the Art & Ecology Program, as well as a Knowledge Network Expert for the United Nations’ Harmony with Nature platform. Basia’s books include Water Library, Reading the River and The Ecological Activist Art of Basia Irland. A new monograph Basia Irland, Repositories; Portable Sculptures for Waterway Journeys by Patricia Watts was published this year. Explore more of her work, including a moving series of essays written for National geographic that contemplate ‘What Rivers Know’ at basiairland.com.
“The river is our blood, and without blood, we will die.” A passionate First Nations artist and rights activist, Bruce Mundagutta Shillingsworth is a Muruwari and Budjiti man dedicated to fighting for the just treatment of river systems. Hailing from northwest NSW, Bruce's connection to Australia’s Namoi, Barwon, and Darling Rivers runs deep as he calls attention to the part rivers play in the stories, knowledge and lives of the Aboriginal people. As a cultural educator in Sydney, he leads a revival dance group and launched the Water for Rivers campaign to address the devastation caused by water theft by large cotton farmers and irrigators. In October 2019, Bruce united communities along the river in a Corroboree, emphasising the importance of First Nations peoples' connections to land and water. Committed to fixing the Murray-Darling Basin crisis, Bruce continues to be a powerful voice for change. Learn more about Water for Rivers on their Facebook page, and Bruce’s ventures on Instagram.
Growing up in Germany, Ulrich Eichelmann’s fascination with his local river and its wildlife inhabitants developed into a life of environmental activism – fighting to protect kingfisher breeding sites, bogs and rivers in the region. Through 30 years working on river conservation and restoration he has been directly involved in projects, including establishing the Danube National Park, campaigning against the Ilisu dam in Turkey, and producing a documentary on the negative impacts of climate change policies on nature. Since founding Riverwatch in 2012, Ulrich has focused his efforts on protecting the Balkan Peninsula’s rivers. He is the driving force behind the ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ campaign, which aims to preserve the best and most diverse rivers on the continent in the face of over 3,500 hydropower projects. The campaign has stopped or halted hundreds of dam projects, and helped to create one of the strongest nature protection movements in Europe. Stay up to date with his latest work on Twitter.
What is the quickest most effective way to stop plastic getting into the oceans? Indonesian environmental organisation Sungai Watch believes it is river barriers. Understanding that rivers are the connection point between life on land and the ocean, Sungai Watch aims to protect and restore Indonesia’s rivers by developing and designing simple technologies to eradicate plastic pollution, activate communities on land and give them a sense of pride and ownership over keeping their rivers clean. When the collected waste is processed, they conduct audits to determine the type of plastic and the brands manufacturing it, so that the root causes of the plastic pollution can also be addressed. Since late 2020 Sungai Watch has installed 180 barriers in Bali and Java, and collected over 1.1 million kg of plastic. To support them in their mission to install 1,000 barriers throughout Indonesia and help the fight against plastic pollution go to sungaiwatch.com, or follow them on Instagram and Tiktok.
Hà Nội Xanh (Green Hanoi) is a volunteer group dedicated to cleaning up the Vietnamese capital’s waterways. Starting with only three members, including group leader Nguyen Tien Huy, the group has grown to over 300 volunteers. Most of them are students and workers dedicating their free time to the cause. Together they have organised more than 50 river clean-up sessions across To Lich, La Khe and Linh Dam rivers – and they don’t intend on stopping anytime soon. On a weekly basis these enthusiastic youngsters collect waste from their local river to create a clean and beautiful capital city, covering their own operating costs, which include protective gear and cleaning tools. Hà Nội Xanh hope to receive contributions from organisations so they can expand their cleanups to other areas and raise awareness about protecting the environment. Stay up to date on their Facebook page.
In 1992, a single sockeye salmon navigated his way up a network of rivers from the Pacific Ocean to the headwaters at Redfish Lake, Idaho. He should have been one of thousands, but sockeye had just been declared an endangered species, due to over harvesting, loss of habitat and a proliferation of dams that made epic journeys like his nearly impossible. Christened ‘Lonesome Larry’, he became the mascot of a campaign driven by Idaho Rivers United, a newly formed grassroots conservation organisation focused on protecting and enhancing the waterways of Idaho for the benefit of all species. In the 30 years since, the IRU has become one of the loudest voices for salmon protection, recreation access, mine reform, and water protection across the state, and halted numerous damaging dam and hydro projects. Recognising the importance of Indigenous values and practices to the ecological and cultural integrity of the region, the IRU partners with local tribes who have traditionally protected and preserved these landscapes. Follow them on Instagram and find out more about their work at idahorivers.org.
When you think of Egypt’s Nile River, you probably think of pyramids – but did you picture them being made out of recovered plastic? That’s what VeryNile did to showcase the tons of plastic (200 tons and counting) it removes from this iconic river every day. The Nile is listed by the WEF as one of 10 rivers that contribute 90% of the garbage in the world’s oceans. VeryNile seeks to address that, building more eco-friendly communities while solving the problem of marine litter using socially empowering and innovative approaches. Headquartered on Cairo’s Qursayah Island, VeryNile works in partnership with freelance fishermen from the greater Cairo region, who are compensated per kilo for the plastic they collect. The plastic is sorted, compressed, and sent to be repurposed into various products. In addition to focussing on fresh water shortages and plastic pollution en route to the Mediterranean Sea, VeryNile raises awareness about the importance of reducing plastic consumption to ensure that its impact is not just local, but global.
Li An Phoa dreams of a world with drinkable rivers. This adventurer and ecologist – Dutch daily De Volkskrant dubbed her “the female Indiana Jones” – walks rivers from source to sea to raise awareness and mobilise people to take care of their rivers, promoting citizen science and community action along the way. Her journey along the Meuse river (over 1000 km) from its source in France to its mouth at the North Sea was made into a tv-series and a documentary. This year (2023) Li An will walk the full length of the Vechte (170 km through Germany and the Netherlands) and the Thames (400 km through the UK). Look out for her book Drinkable Rivers which will be published in September, and find out how you can join one of her walks at drinkablerivers.org.
Bridging the gap between storyteller and explorer, Fredrick Mugira has dedicated 18 years to reporting on rivers and water conservation across Africa, Asia, Europe and the US. As the founder of Water Journalists Africa, his work unites writers across 50 African countries, bringing corroboration and cohesion to the continent's water issues. And Fredrick’s transboundary conservation efforts don’t stop there: he also co-founded InfoNile, a GeoJournalism cross border project which maps data on water issues in the Nile River basin. His work on plastic pollution in the River Nile highlighted the enabling of a ‘freeway of plastics’ into the Mediterranean Sea and explored the level of microplastics in the waterways. As an editor at Uganda’s Vision Group and a Pulitzer Center Grantee, Frederick’s accolades rightfully reflect his efforts in investigative reporting earning him multiple awards. Find out more waterjournalistsafrica.com and find updates on Twitter.
Salman Khairalla was 15 years old when his uncle invited him to work as a laboratory assistant at the Iraqi Institute. His schooling disrupted by the sectarian war, Salman was only too happy for a safe space and a chance to support his family. Then a journey to take water samples in the Iraqi Marshes changed everything. Salman came across a family grieving over a buffalo that had died due to lack of clean water. Buffalos are a traditional source of milk and livelihoods in Southern Iraq, and this was a poignant symbol of what the dams in Turkey and Syria were doing to the Tigris-Euphrates river basin. Environmental activism was a risky pursuit during the reign of Saddam Hussein, but Salman would go on to obtain a degree in Environmental Science at the University of Kufa and co-found Humat Dijlah, Iraqi for “Tigris River Protectors”, an NGO that aims to safeguard natural resources and advance environmental human rights. In 2019 Salman was arrested and detained for his activism, and was only released after an international campaign . “I left Baghdad and I cannot return to it in glory,” he says, “not only for fear of being killed, but the message that I carry. Saving the Tigris is my duty and the duty of everyone who relies on it.” Read Salman’s inspiring story, listen to his BBC interview, or follow him on Instagram.
“Who is water?” This fundamental question is central to the work of Dr Kelsey Leonard, water scientist, legal scholar, policy expert, writer, and enrolled citizen of the Shinnecock Nation. “We need to fundamentally transform the way we value water,” says Kelsey, whose research focuses on Indigenous water justice and its climatic, territorial, and governance underpinnings. She seeks to establish Indigenous traditions of water conservation as the foundation for international water policymaking, and has been instrumental in safeguarding the interests of Indigenous Nations for environmental planning and building Indigenous science and knowledge into new solutions for water governance and Ocean justice. “If we’re going to make innovative changes for water governance, it has to come from an interdisciplinary approach. We can’t solve these issues in isolation.” Kelsey is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, and among her many other honours she represents the Shinnecock Indian Nation on the Mid-Atlantic Committee on the Ocean, charged with protecting America's ocean ecosystems and coastlines. Join more than 3 million others who have watched her powerful TEDTalk “Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans”, and follow her on Twitter.
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