The Rivers We Yearn for, The Rivers We Love, The Rivers We Leave

Jorge E. Celi, PhD Aquatic Ecologist, Board Member of the Fresh Water Working Group, Society for Conservation Biology
Dan From Indiana/Flickr

This March 14 we celebrate the International Day of Action for Rivers! There are so many things we can do, so many we should do. As many have said, rivers are mothers, they are fountains of life, and therefore we must care for them, heal them, love them. Nevertheless, many of us are not aware of how our activities, tastes and desires affect these sources, not only of water but also of food, work, vitality and peace. Others know but do not act, instead remaining passive, conformist, or pessimistic. To ensure that rivers remain for posterity, we must reflect and choose how we want our rivers to be in the future. It's time to act!

When I was little, while traveling through the narrow roads in the mountains of southwestern Ecuador, which were surrounded and crossed by many rivers and streams, I dreamed of being carried away in a raft by the current until I reached the sea. I eventually did this long after, but the experience was longer and different from what I had imagined. It was an unforgettable experience to see the great Amazon River in Leticia-Colombia, where all the waters of the northeastern Andes unite. By that time I had already been working in the Ecuadorian Amazon and knew of the existence of the major waterways which form the basin of the mighty river. Then, encountering the Black River in Manaus after several days of travel in a four-story boat was overwhelming. The water, dark and translucent as tea, seemed impossible to believe! Finally, my arrival at old Belem and a glimpse of the muddy river waters, laden with sediment and stories immutable in time, gave me peace.

I have seen so many beautiful, lively rivers: rivers full of mysterious, curious pink dolphins in the Amazon, rivers in Alaska with salmon powerfully jumping and driven by the eternal force that sustains life on this planet, and rivers flowing freely and joyfully through extensive floodplains like the Palora River in the Ecuadorian Andes. I have also seen sad rivers, channelized, full of garbage, without water. It seems outrageous but I have seen rivers made thick and stagnant by the garbage accumulated in their waters, their banks paved with plastic, angrily and vindictively trying to reclaim the balance that humans stole from them.

We need to care for and clean our rivers, protect the forests that support their basins, maintain their connectivity and hydrological fluctuation, and the quality of their waters. We must understand that in continuing to degrade or destroy these ecosystems, we are doing damage to our water and food, which in turn threatens our very existence. We can not improve our quality of life and achieve sustainability without reversing this behavior. As Siddhartha says in the eponymous novel by Herman Hesse, "Ephemeral is the world of appearances, ephemeral our dresses ... and the body itself. What will I be tomorrow? " At the foot of the Ganges, Siddhartha thought, "At the banks of this river I wish to stay." In his heart he heard a voice, which was newly awakening, say, "Love this water! Stay with it! Learn from it!"

Monday, February 29, 2016