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This website will provide materials, tools and guidance related to conducting a free-flowing river analysis (FRA). We will first introduce the FFR methodology more generally to provide a large-scale overview of the framework.
We will then focus our attention on a case study for the lower Mekong river basin. We will provide updated data and tools to conduct a FRA provided detailed training material, including video instructions. A web mapping tool is available to showcase the latest results of a tailor made assessment in the Lower Mekong River Basin. With this, conducting an FRA becomes accessible to a wide range of researchers and practitioners.
We furthermore provide guidance on how FRA's can be replicated in other parts of the world, and what steps are necessary to adapt the FRA to local needs.
According to our definition, a free-flowing river (FFR) is a river where ecosystem functions and services are largely unaffected by changes to the fluvial connectivity allowing an unobstructed exchange of material, species and energy within the river system and surrounding landscapes (Grill et al., 2019).
FFRs are the freshwater equivalent of wilderness areas and they support many of the most diverse, complex and dynamic ecosystems globally, providing important societal and economic services. As FFRs are under increasing threat from infrastructure development by humans, leading to continued losses of biodiversity and ecosystem functions, we envision a world where the most critical FFRs are valued and protected for the enduring benefit of people, wildlife, and nature. Organisations such as World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) is actively working to advocate for and communicate the importance of FFRs around the world with a vision to safeguard and sustain them into the future (https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/free-flowing-rivers).
A part of this effort is to continuously monitor and assess the status of Free-flowing rivers worldwide. Under the term "Free-flowing River Assessment (FRA)" our team developed a framework and tool to assess river connectivity and the free-flowing status globally and regionally.
A Free-flowing Rivers Assessment (FRA) is an assessment to determine the connectivity status of rivers by taking into consideration both natural connectivity as well as fragmentation from infrastructure, such as dams, roads, urban areas, and water use.
The main result of a FRA is a connectivity index representing how well river stretches are still connected in the lateral, and in the upstream and downstream direction given existing infrastructure. The index is termed Connectivity Status Index (CSI). As such the FRA provides a layer of information that is strictly focused on connectivity, and is therefore not a complete assessment of river health. However the results are meant to be combined and supplemented with other layers, such as species information, water quality or fluvio-geomorphological information to, for example, further assess and identify high-value conservation areas.
A second important result of this assessment is the classification of rivers into either “Free-flowing”, having a “Good Connectivity” status, or as being “Impacted”. This second layer of information helps addressing river connectivity from a "whole river" perspective. We dedicated a complete section to explain how to conduct a FRA for the lower Mekong river.
However, before deep-diving into the procedures and application of our tools in the Lower Mekong, we suggest to read more about the underlying research. A FRA includes many concepts and methods, that interact and play together, producing a rich set of results and statistics. It will help tremendously to first take some time to understand these key concepts.