FreshWater Watch

FreshWater Watch is Earthwatch’s global citizen science project to investigate the health of the world’s freshwater ecosystems on a scale never seen before.

Citizen Scientists’ contribution to this study is vital - without it we won't be able to test the quantity of locations or the number of times that we need to create projects that will have a high impact in tackling the freshwater challenge. To read about the impact our citizen scientists had in the first 18 months of FreshWater Watch, click here.

The programme operates on two levels:


We have global data questions which are consistent in every location around the world. So if you’re testing at rivers in Rio, lakes in London, streams in Sydney, beaches in Buffalo or ponds in Paris you know that you are doing exactly the same as FreshWater Watchers everywhere.

The data tests and observations can be summarised as below:

Research Question

  • What are the causes of the loss of freshwater quality?
  • Why are freshwater ecosystems degrading?

Research Purpose

  • To better manage and protect the world’s freshwater.


A key element of the second level of FreshWater Watch is the collaborations we have created with organisations such as the University of Sao Paulo, The Open University of Hong Kong, The Singapore Delft Water Alliance and The Chinese Academy of Science.

These collaborations seek to address specific local water challenges as well as gather data for global FreshWater Watch research. These local priorities have global implications such as investigating the benefits of restoration activities (Singapore), examining sources of litter pollution in the Great Lakes (Buffalo, Chicago and Montreal).

In this level of FreshWater Watch, we form partnerships with corporate partners such as HSBC and Shell, schools, NGOs, volunteers groups and other groups.

The FreshWater Watchers who participate in this level attend a training day as well as completing the online training and become known as Citizen Science Leaders.

How The Data Will Be Used

Human impact on our environment has increased dramatically through population growth, industry and agriculture. In the last 50 years, use of nitrogen fertilisers has increased by 600 per cent and phosphate concentrations in our water have increased by 300 per cent. Harmful algal blooms are occurring more frequently and damaging more ecosystems than ever before.

Citizen scientists’ data are being used to identify the impact this is having on aquatic ecosystems. We know that, as water quality declines in some regions, more than 50 per cent of native freshwater fish species and nearly one third of the world’s amphibians are at risk of extinction. Your data will help us identify what is causing this.

The kind of data that you are collecting is missing in most of the world – scientists and Governments do not have the resources to collect data on this scale. So the results you are uploading to the project database will be analysed and presented to policy makers to directly improve the way in which aquatic ecosystems are being managed.

Find out more details on our local projects around the world.

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