Advancing Freshwater Biodiversity Conservation by Collaborating with Public Aquaria
Freshwater habitats and biota worldwide are in a conservation crisis, yet scientists and nongovernmental organizations have struggled to effectively engage the public to broaden awareness of needs for protecting aquatic ecosystems. As a result, the spectacular diversity and increasing imperilment of freshwater taxa remain poorly known outside our profession. Declining public trust of scientists creates further challenges as we try to limit losses of freshwater biodiversity. Reversing these trends requires a targeted collaborative effort from a variety of stakeholders that builds public and political support for freshwater science and conservation. Public aquaria can be key partners in this effort by providing a large audience (>150 million visitors annually) for conservation messaging in a trusted arena. Exhibits provide a visual connection to freshwater biota and their habitats, granting access to the underwater world for people who may have no prior exposure to river or lake ecosystems, particularly in urban centers. We identify a host of opportunities for fisheries scientists and aquarium staff to publicize conservation concerns, craft messages that connect with the public, and engage citizen scientists. Successfully fostering appreciation of freshwater biodiversity is requisite to protecting it in the future.