Wildlife, including seahorses and sharks, call the Thames their home after a river health report found it has a “rich and varied” ecosystem.
The State of the Thames report comes six decades after parts of it were declared “biological dead”.
But the report also warned against the threats of climate change and pollution, with an average rise in water temperature of almost 0.2 C per year.
Young short-nosed seahorses were found in 2017 near Greenwich, and it “suggests that the Thames is restoring the estuary ecosystem,” the report said.
There is also evidence of the importance of the river “as a breeding ground and nursery for fish”, including smelt, European sea bass and smooth dog, which is a type of shark.
The report, led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), stated that water quality has “shown some promising improvements” with reduced phosphorus concentrations – a change attributed to the efficiency of improved wastewater treatment plants to reduce harmful levels of nutrients entering the water. .
However, there has been a long-term increase in nitrate, and the report found that “the effects of climate change are clearly affecting the Thames, as both water temperature and sea levels continue to rise above historical baselines”.
When it comes to wildlife such as seals, there have been “improving short-term trends identified for natural habitats, birds and marine mammals”, although the number of fish species showed “a slight decrease”, with more research needed to determine the cause “.
Between 2016 and 2020, 17,770 disposable plastic bottles were counted and removed at sites along the Thames, of which almost half were water bottles, the report states.
It added that some plastic found in the river, including cotton buds and wet wipes, comes from wastewater flowing into the estuary, which not only threatens the ecosystem but “also has a detrimental effect on the perception of the Thames as being ‘dirty’. “
High levels of pollution in parts of the Thames led scientists in 1957 to declare stretches of it “biologically dead”, but there has been an improvement since then, the report said.
Alison Debney, ZSL Conservation Program Director for Wetland Restoration Ecosystems, said: “This report has enabled us to really look at how far the Thames has come on its journey to recovery since it was declared biologically dead, and in some cases set baselines for building from in the future. “
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