ProjectFreshWater Watch

Programme Overview

FreshWater Watch is Earthwatch’s global research project which aims to involve citizens in a programme to research and learn about fresh water to safeguard the quality and supply of this most precious and vital resource.

Participants have the opportunity to become citizen scientists and take an active role in scientific data gathering and join a global community working together to promote freshwater sustainability.

Why is the quality of fresh water important?

  • More people die from poor quality water annually than from all forms of violence, including war.
  • 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.
  • 1 litre of petrol spilt can contaminate 1 million litres of fresh water to below World Health Organisation standards for drinking water.
  • The greatest single service freshwater ecosystems provide is water purification and the assimilation of wastes, valued at US$ 400 billion worldwide annually.

Why do we need to do FreshWater Watch?

  • Eutrophication is the response of an aquatic ecosystem to the excessive addition of nitrates and phosphates. This can lead the growth of harmful algal blooms, increased turbidity and oxygen depletion of the water, fish kills, and an overall decline in biodiversity.
  • Before the global increase of industry at the turn of the 18th century, the only sources of nitrogen in fresh water were bacteria, volcanoes and lightning strikes.
  • Use of nitrogen fertilisers has increased by 600 per cent in the last 50 years.
  • Up to 30 per cent of nitrogen used in agriculture ends up in our fresh water.
  • Human activity trebled the amount of phosphorus released to the biosphere between 1960 and 2000, principally from runoff from agriculture and poorly treated domestic wastewater.
  • Reduction of excess phosphorus in the soil could take decades leading to long term problems of eutrophication in freshwater and coastal environments.

Development of FreshWater Watch

With support from a strong independent Science Advisory Panel, including senior freshwater biologists, Freshwater Watch aims to mobilize the general public to observe and monitor key indicator species in their local areas and input the data into a central database which can be used by academia, research institutes and governmental agencies as well as NGOs.

The Science Advisory Panel in Hong Kong, China and other Asia Pacific regions includes:

Hong Kong – Prof. Kin-chung HO, The Open University of Hong Kong

Shanghai – Prof. Yuchao ZHANG, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Guangzhou – Prof. Huashou LI, South China Agricultural University

Malaysia – Dr. Kailasam KALITHASAN, Global Environment Centre

Singapore – Dr. Mynampati Kalyan CHAKRAVARTHY, Hydroinformatics Institute

Indonesia  – Ir. Hendri SOSIAWAN, Indonesian Agroclimatology and Hydrology Research Institute

Not only is Freshwater important for scientists and decision makers but it also encourages people to interact with nature on their doorsteps and get involved with local issues.


The Research

Research Questions: What are the causes of the loss of freshwater quality and why are freshwater ecosystems degrading?

Research Purpose: To better manage and protect the world’s fresh water.

The development and delivery of the Citizen Science Leader programme relies upon strategic partnerships with locally based organisations. Each of these organisations has local research questions, which are dependent upon the local water challenges. Globally we are using consistent methodology, strategy and objectives to create a single, global database.

It is projected that there will be data collected from more than 3,000 locations around the world, most of which have never previously been studied. Scientists anticipate that data will be published in more than 30 scientific publications and make a huge contribution to the protection of water quality and supply.

That is why we will share the findings with policymakers, NGOs and businesses worldwide, so we can play our part in tackling one of the greatest challenges of our time.

How the research can be used

Many geographical databases already exist and the quality and quantity of FreshWater Watch will, in many ways, be the missing piece.

Our data will be set into a wider geographical context with climate, land use, population, hydrological, socio-economic, water management and governance data.

Analysis of the different datasets will be carried out to identify what factors influence water quality the most e.g. is water quality in densely populated urban areas always worse than that in more sparsely populated areas? Is water quality always poorer in places with a particular climate?

Comparisons will be made between different areas within cities, between cities and between different water body types, and on different temporal scales (past, present, future).


If you are interested in learning more about our research, please check out our other publications.

Citizen Science Leaders (CSLs)

The role of a Citizen Science Leader is to uncover the causes of the loss of freshwater quality and ecosystem degradation and be part of a global community providing environmental information on a scale never seen before.

CSLs are the driving force of FreshWater Watch. They take part in a one-day training programme where they will work alongside highly qualified scientists to learn the research procedures used in this programme and find out about critical global and local water issues and how you can take personal action at home, in the workplace and in the wider community.

After the training day CSLs conduct further research to contribute to a huge global database in their own time with friends, colleagues, family and the wider community and:

  • Communicate FreshWater Watch to colleagues and encourage them to get involved.
  • Demonstrate the activities they have learned and lead colleagues in freshwater research.
  • Join with other Citizen Science Leaders, actively contributing to online community.
  • Be a FreshWater Watch contact point for colleagues.

Benefits of being a Citizen Science Leader

  • Achieve a first-hand understanding of freshwater issues and impacts and be part of the team working towards finding a solution to the challenges facing global freshwater quality and supply.
  • Learn from experts during your training day and be part of a unique research project collecting data from previously untested water bodies.
  • Family involvement – the task is suitable for children to take an active role and it is a great family activity.
  • Develop your professional competencies through innovative capabilities enhancement, e.g., leadership opportunities, team building, application of influencing skills, and strengthen presentation skills.
  • Expand your personal and professional network – both through the Citizen Science Leader training day and through the online involvement with the community.


Uncovering Algal Blooms in Hong Kong

24 Mar 2017

Poor access to drinkable water is a problem that Jamil Ahmad
experienced first- hand when growing up in Pakistan. Motivated
to be part of a solution to the water challenge, Jamil seized the
opportunity to become a Citizen Science Leader (CSL) when he
moved to Hong Kong to work for HSBC Global Asset Management…

Read more

Kuala Lumpur FreshWater Watch
Results-sharing Session

1 Feb 2017

On 24 Jan Earthwatch Hong Kong held a lively FreshWater Watch
(FWW) results-sharing session in Kuala Lumpur with 28 HSBC
Citizen Science Leaders and staffs. Our local research partner
Dr. Kalithasan Kailasam (Dr. Kali) from Global Environment Centre
presented some Malaysia-specific results and held an interactive

Read more

Training Citizen Science Leaders in Shanghai

4 Oct 2016
Shanghai, one of the ‘megacities’ in China which owns 24 million
permanent residents, has high rate of development in the recent
10 years. The Freshwater Watch program established by
Earthwatch trains Citizen Science Leaders (CSLs) to collect fresh
water data which are gathered and then analyzed by the scientists
of Freshwater Watch…

Read more

Shanghai FreshWater Watch Preliminary
Result Sharing

30 Sept 2016
A CSL sharing was held on August 19 with our Regional Manager
Benita Chick and Principal Investigator Prof. Yuchao Zhang from
Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy
of Sciences with 25 enthusiastic participants, some of those who
have never joined our programs and are interested to learn more
about Freshwater work…

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Meet the FreshWater Watcher – Cindy Kuang

27 Jul 2016
Cindy works at HSBC in Guangzhou, China. Since joining Freshwater
Watch she appreciates the role safe water plays in her life and for
every person around the world.

She tests water at South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou.
Cindy has observed that the farmers use water from…

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FreshWater Watch Training in GuangZhou

9 Jun 2016
We held our final Guangzhou FreshWater Watch training for 2016.
Our citizen scientists were enthusiastic throughout the training,
and they enjoyed collecting water samples in the South China
Agricultural University (SCAU) wetland park…

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FreshWater Watch Training with Jacqueline

3 Jun 2016
Jacqueline, far right, with her FreshWater Watch team(left to right)

Steven, Siew Teen and Wendy

FreshWater Watch and the HSBC Water Programme taught
Jacqueline about the scarcity of water in Singapore.

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Meet the FreshWater Watcher: Andit (Jakarta)

17 May 2016
Andit, far right, with his FreshWater Watch colleagues

Andit tests water in the suburbs of Jakarta, Indonesia with his
colleagues.He tells us about the impact of pollution and rubbish in the

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Meet the FreshWater Watcher: Martina

11 May 2016
FreshWater Watcher Martina monitors water quality in Bishan,
Singapore so that she can escape to nature and share her tips for
protecting the environment for everyone to enjoy…

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Meet the FreshWater Watcher: Douglas
(Hong Kong)

19 April 2016
Douglas, far right, FreshWater Watch testing in Hong Kong with

his colleagues

Douglas wanted to volunteer to help protect his local environment
and learn more about water. He and
his colleagues tests water in
four locations in Hong Kong…

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A FreshWater Watch day in Kuala Lumpur

8 Apr 2016
Our soon-to-be citizen scientists join Dr Kalithasan
Kailasam, Kuala
Lumpur’s lead FreshWater Watch scientist,
in the classroom to find
out all about the global freshwater challenge. For many, this is the first
time that they have thought about their water consumption and the
impact they have at home and work on water sources and quality.

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Meet the Scientist: Dr Kalithasan Kailasam
(Kuala Lumpur)

7 Jan 2016
Dr Kalithasan Kailasam, Lead FreshWater Watch scientist in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia, tells us why he loves to teach science, the
importance of understanding water and his tips for citizen scientists.

FreshWater Watch water quality data from Kuala Lumpur contributes
to the river monitoring programme…

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Training Citizen Scientist Leaders in Kuala

12 Nov 2015
As a newly joined staff of Earthwatch Hong Kong, I observed a Citizen
Science Leader Day in Kuala Lumpur, and it was such a wonderful

The fieldwork practice session was amazing…

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