Lake ‘healthcare screening’ needed to safeguard global human health and ecosystems

Lakes are considered the lifeblood of numerous ecosystems worldwide and are facing a health crisis that could potentially impact the millions of people dependent on their services.  

Now a study co-authored by Griffith University has underscored the urgent need for coordinated action to address the issues jeopardising lake ecosystems globally. 

Professor David Hamilton, Director of Griffith’s Australian Rivers Institute, was a co-author on the Earth’s Future study that examined the various ailments impacting nearly 21 million lakes around the world that are greater than one hectare in area. 

“Lakes, in their varied sizes, shapes, and hues, are vital storytellers of geological evolution and environmental significance,” Professor Hamilton said.  

“However, the health of these bodies of water is under siege from a plethora of ailments, including thermal, circulatory, respiratory, nutritional, and metabolic challenges, as well as infections and pollution. 

“The ramifications of neglecting lake health are profound. Without timely intervention and preventative measures, these issues could escalate into chronic conditions, imperilling essential ecosystem services that millions of people rely upon.” 

Australia has around 11,400 lakes with the majority being salty due to high rates of evaporation, alongside other areas such as parts of Africa and Central Asia, which evaporate much more water than they receive. 

Of concern among the findings was the widespread phenomenon of lake drying, exacerbated by human stressors and climate change. This is also impacting the availability of water stored in artificial reservoirs and dams. 

About 115,000 lakes globally are evaporating at an alarming rate, posing risks to the more than 153 million people who reside nearby. 

To avert an ecological catastrophe, the study advocated for a comprehensive approach encompassing improved sewage treatment, climate mitigation, prevention of non-native species introductions and curbing chemical pollution. 

Professor Hamilton stressed the necessity of applying strategies akin to human healthcare to lake management.  

“Early identification, regular screening, and remediation efforts are crucial to preserving the health of our lakes,” he said. 

“Lakes need to be recognised as living systems that can suffer from a large variety of health issues which are similar in many ways to human health issues.  

“Despite increasing preventative and treatment efforts in many countries, evidence for substantial improvement in the overall global lake health status remains elusive. Thus, there is a high risk that more and more lake health issues will become chronic and difficult to treat.” 

The study ‘Global Lake Health in the Anthropocene: Societal Implications and Treatment Strategies’ has been published in Earth’s Future.