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Fish are innovators - they were the first animals to develop bones, paving the way for our own distant vertebrate ancestors. Fish themselves were content to remain cold-blooded, scaly water-dwellers, adapted to a variety of aquatic habitats from the desert wetlands to the depths of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana trench.
Some fish are awe-inspiring predators, such as sharks and piranhas. Some are specialized, such as the bumphead parrotfish, whose bony beak allows it to crush coral rock. Each adult eats over 5 tons of coral per year. Some are gentle giants, such as the plankton-eating whale shark, which can grow to an impressive 40 feet in length. But they all depend on healthy freshwater systems and oceans for their lives, and their seemingly vast domain is shrinking.
Freshwater biodiversity is threatened by overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, climate change, and changes in water flow that result from human activities such as damming rivers and irrigating crops. Ocean species also suffer from climate change and overfishing; coral reefs are dying due to warmer oceans (with disastrous effects to reef fishes), millions of sharks are caught each year so that soup can be made from their fins, and overfishing is causing grouper, tuna, and other fish populations to crash. Of the 31,600 described species of fishes, 1,771 species have been evaluated by the IUCN, and 26 percent of those species were considered threatened in 2010. In order to preserve the rich diversity of our freshwater and marine ecosystems, we must act to protect these threatened species and their watery habitats.