FRESHWATER is less than 3 percent of Earth's water. But it is home to almost half of all fish species.

David Herasimtschuk often spends as many as 10 hours in water not much warmer than freezing. He floats and bobs in dry suit, clutching his camera - and waiting. You wouldn't know it from his extreme patience, but he's actually in a rush:

''Many of these species have been around for million of years,'' he says, and it's only in the last hundred that they've started to vanish.''

Herasimtschuk is a photographer and cinematographer for Freshwaters illustrated, a conservation nonprofit that sends him around the world to document imperiled wildlife in lakes, rivers, and creeks.

Scientists believe that that more than 20 percent of freshwater fish species are threatened or already extinct, as dams constrain migration routes and habitats are made inhospitable by pollution runoff and rising water temperatures.

These losses affect humans too, Drinkable fresh water depends on thriving ecosystems. Bivalves and wetland plants absorb pollutants, and some animals consume detritus that lowers water quality.

Their roles often have been overlooked - but now contamination is becoming more than they can handle.

Many underwater photographers prefer the ocean's majestic whales, sharks, and coral reefs. Herasimtschuk's subjects are smaller :
Endemic fish, aquatic salamanders, water snakes.

Pollution swept into their habitats by even moderate rainfall can smother them. They're skittish around humans, so Herasimtschuk's  patience doesn't always pay off.

Yet he persists, mindful that he's racing against the clock of extinction. ''There's all this life that's disappearing.'' he says. And time is running out.

The World Students Society thanks author, Melissa Suran.


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