Celebrating International Rivers Day

Panorama of sunset and silhouette of small wooden boats cruising on the Amazon River with the Manaus-Iranduba Bridge in the background. By Watch The World


Humans have been described as a “riparian species”, i.e., one that is drawn to and lives along rivers, habitats that we depend on for persistence and development. Consider that 93% of the world’s “megacities” (those with over 10 million people) are located along a large river and 63% of the world’s entire population lives within 20 km of a river. Humanity’s “cradle of civilization” encompasses the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Finally, in what is probably the world’s largest gathering of humanity, up to 50 million people on a single day, Hindus celebrate Kumbh Mela at four rivers in India every 12 years – a spiritual cleansing dip in the rivers is a central feature of the festival.

Young boy plays in his wooden boat, Amazon River, Colombia. By Daniel Gjula-Lyonnais

As a reflection of the close ties between humans and rivers, March 14th marks International Rivers Day. Here, “diverse communities around the world come together with one voice to say that our rivers matter.” International Rivers Day has a strong base in Asia, Africa, and Latin America while World Rivers Day occurs annually on the fourth Sunday in September and had its origins in British Columbia.

Every 4 years the sockeye salmon run returns to the Fraser River. When they open the river for fishing sockeye fever hits and everyone hits the river Fraser River, British Columbia, Canada. By Matthew Collingwood

Harbour Air single-engine float plane coming in for a water landing on the Fraser River with snowy mountains in the background, Richmond, BC, Canada. By Micah Watson

Aside from their obvious benefits provided to humans, rivers are also critical habitats for myriad animals and plants and, back in the day (2014!), I wrote a blog about the relationship between wolves and rivers. Also, consider that the Fraser River alone has more than 30 groups of sockeye salmon and Chinook salmon with distinct behaviour and body form, each distinct group of salmon resulting from their interaction with the variable attributes of each river’s physical environment (length, flow level, elevation, water temperature). For example, salmon that spawn hundreds of kilometres upstream in the Fraser basin typically migrate in the river in late spring and summer while those that spawn closer to the sea enter much later in the summer to late autumn.

These sockeye salmon swam up the Copper River hundreds of miles to reach these spawning grounds. By Troutnut

Wild, red sockeye salmon spawning in a clear forest stream in Alaska. These fish have reached the end of their migration from the ocean to their river spawning grounds to lay their eggs. By Mark A. McCaffrey

The critical role of rivers throughout the history of humans in North America and the myriad interactions between rivers and biodiversity in North America is explored in a book that I have coming out in the autumn of 2021. Rivers Run Through Us: A Natural and Human History of Great Rivers of North America (Rocky Mountain Books, rmbooks.com) is an exploration of the natural and human history of ten great rivers of North America and how they have impacted the human experience for millennia. Aboriginal rights, gold rushes, biodiversity (its creation and loss), warfare, immigration, and art are all explored through the lens of some great rivers, the humans who colonized and developed within their basins, and the future of these fundamental interactions.

So, on March 14th, give a thought to rivers near you and how important they are!

Panoramic view of Fraser River and valley as seen from the grounds of Westminster Abbey, above Hatzic in Mission, British Columbia. By Mimigu