Conservation ecologist puts focus on water resources management in Latin America

Elizabeth Anderson, director of international research programs for the School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS), recently participated in the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Roundtable for Sustainability in Washington D.C.

The roundtable provided a forum for leaders working in Latin America and the Caribbean to explore emerging challenges and share new approaches to integrated water resources management.

“Oftentimes, researchers work independently, so coming together at an event like this reminds us of how our research contributes to the bigger picture,” Anderson said. “We had experts talk about their work in the fields of climate change, water security, gold mining, biodiversity, and hydropower development. The topics themselves don’t work independently of each other; they all affect freshwater resources.”

Elizabeth Anderson (left) collects water samples in Puerto Viejo River in Costa Rica.

Elizabeth Anderson (left) collects fish samples in the Puerto Viejo River in Costa Rica.

Anderson spoke about hydropower development in Central America and opportunities for protecting freshwater ecosystem services.

Hydropower, a clean source of energy, provides a reliable source of electricity for the region and is considered to be a big part of the region’s energy future.

“Hydropower is likely to be a cornerstone of the energy future of many Latin American and Caribbean countries. So there is a need to consider it within a context of river basin or regional planning that also recognizes the importance of the region’s freshwater ecosystems, and to develop appropriate biodiversity conservation and resource management strategies for existing and new hydropower projects.”

Central American rivers provide numerous benefits to people in the region, since they derive most of their drinking water from these freshwater sources. The rivers also contain hundreds of species of fishes and shrimps, provide a source of food, income and recreation; serve as transportation routs; and have strong links to cultural identity.

“Much of the Latin America and Caribbean region falls within the Neotropics, which is a global center for species richness in freshwater fauna,” Andersonson said. “An estimated forty percent of the world’s freshwater fishes are found here, so you’re looking at about six thousand different species of freshwater fishes, many of which are still being described by science. There’s a need to better understand and conserve these species, and the freshwater resources themselves as they are being rapidly altered by human activities.”

Other panelists included experts from the IDB, Northwest Forestry Services, Columbia University, State University of New York and the University of the West Indies.

Established in 1959, IDB supports efforts by countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to reduce poverty and inequality in a sustainable, climate-friendly way.

Anderson is a conservation ecologist whose work explores freshwater ecology and conservation, tropical ecology, integrated water resources management, sustainability science and international studies. She is also a professor in the FIU Department of Earth and Environment. Anderson has led a research program that examined the ecological effects of river alterations in Costa Rica. She currently has projects in East Africa and the Andean Amazon to improve scientific understanding of tropical river ecology, and to develop ways to put that scientific information to work for biodiversity conservation or for water resources management.

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