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Dr. Kentaro Inoue gently puts a tag on a freshwater mussel before releasing it into a river.

A Global Partnership

Shedd Aquarium has teamed up with the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN SSC) to become the first designated Center for Species Survival with a focus only on freshwater. Shedd was chosen as a host, in part, because of the ability to blend our diverse conservation portfolio with the extraordinary ability to reach people authentically and effectively to understand, appreciate and act on behalf of freshwater ecosystems.

IUCN CSS logo.
The Shedd Aquarium logo.
The IUCN logo.

Centers for Species Survival are partnerships between leading conservation institutions and the IUCN SSC — a Commission that is made up of more than 8,300 conservationists worldwide. This designation will empower Shedd to advance its ongoing freshwater conservation efforts to:

  • A mussel's size is measured as part of a freshwater mussel survey.

    assess

    Assess aquatic species and environments in biodiversity hotspots

  • A closeup of a research log document held by a Shedd field researcher.

    plan

    Plan science-driven conservation

  • A staff member holds two Blanding's turtles at the Shedd Aquarium.

    act

    Act for aquatic species in need

“The Freshwater Center for Species Survival comes at a perfect time, as we are shifting our focus from assessment, towards planning and implementing conservation actions. I foresee it as becoming a beacon for global freshwater biodiversity conservation”

Topiltzin Contreras, Co-chair of the IUCN SSC Freshwater Conservation Committee
Two Shedd scientists set up survey materials on the edge of a river.
A tracking label is gently glued to the shell of a freshwater mussel before it is returned to the wild.

A Focus on Freshwater

Despite covering only about 0.8 percent of the Earth’s surface, freshwater habitats support a disproportionately large amount of unique aquatic life – more than 10 percent of all known animals and about 50 percent of all fish species on the planet. More broadly, research indicates that freshwater ecosystems provide several critical services for our planet – supporting food production, human health, water purification, climate regulation and more.  

These same vital freshwater systems are the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet and face a growing list of challenges like pollution, habitat loss, overexploitation, fragmentation (e.g., dams and culverts) and the climate crisis. Shedd Aquarium’s Center for Species Survival: Freshwater elevates awareness of threats to freshwater habitats across the globe to help combat the current trend of freshwater biodiversity loss, which will benefit animals, plants and humans alike.   

“Now, more than ever, we cannot fall behind the curve on how we look at addressing threats to freshwater, said Ian Harrison, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Freshwater Conservation Committee. “This requires collaboration and resources, focused where we know we can have the best effect. The addition of Shedd Aquarium to IUCN SSC’s global network of partners will be extremely important in addressing these most urgent needs and will help us conserve ecologically and culturally iconic species.”  

Shedd’s collaborative work focuses on critical watersheds in Central America, where aquatic wildlife populations are at risk of extinction. Leveraging the aquarium’s existing portfolio of freshwater research, one attention area for the Shedd will be on freshwater mussels — animals that face the highest level of threat on the planet. Shedd is replicating its ongoing freshwater mussels research, currently conducted throughout the Midwest, and scaling it across key areas of Central America — including El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

Shedd’s work has also expanded to include complementary surveying of freshwater fishes via a partnership with Chicago’s Field Museum.  

“This designation strengthens Shedd Aquarium’s ability to build partnerships, conduct field research and apply our conservation science in ways that make meaningful and sustainable change for freshwater habitats and species globally. Shedd is thrilled at the opportunity to broaden freshwater conservation beyond the Great Lakes and maximize our global impact.”

Chuck Knapp, Ph.D., vice president of conservation research at Shedd Aquarium and co-chair of the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group

Meet the Experts

A young woman looks over her shoulder, standing above a forest stretching to the horizon.

Yasmín Quintana, Ph.D.

Manager, Center for Species Survival: Freshwater at Shedd Aquarium

As the manager of Shedd Aquarium’s Center for Species Survival: Freshwater, Yasmín coordinates with local stakeholders to identify conservation gaps for freshwater systems in Central America, developing conservation plans, and expanding capacity building efforts in the region. She joins Shedd after 10 years working with government, non-government, and international development organizations. Yasmín has extensive field experience in marine and continental ecosystems in Guatemala, Equatorial Guinea, Florida, and Texas.

A man wearing a hat and holding an iguana poses on a beach for a photo.

Chuck Knapp, Ph.D.

Vice president of conservation research at Shedd Aquarium and co-chair of the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group

Chuck Knapp oversees Shedd's conservation research programs with the goal of saving wild animals and imperiled ecosystems. This includes overseeing the scope and ambitions of Shedd’s Center for Species Survival: Freshwater and managing important partner relationships both in-country and back home in Chicago. Knapp’s programs support Shedd’s mission to protect the aquatic animal world and inspire the public to become environmental stewards who protect aquatic life for future generations.

Standing in hip-deep river water, Dr. Kentaro Inoue holds up a dripping sack full of mussels collected during a survey trip.

Kentaro Inoue, Ph.D.

Research biologist at Shedd Aquarium

Kentaro Inoue studies freshwater mussels, animals that are among the most imperiled group of organisms in the world. He works throughout the Midwest to understand how human activities and environmental change affect current mussel diversity. Now, via the work of this Center, Inoue is applying this same research methods to inform assessments and conservation strategies for endemic freshwater mussels across Central America.


A pile of freshwater mussels, their tracking tags visible if one looks closely.

Conservation Through Collaboration

Shedd recognizes that protecting our planet must be done through partnership and collaboration.

Using tools produced by IUCN, Shedd is working alongside local collaborators to assess potential extinction threats, identify key biodiversity areas and train local partners to build capacity for this work to sustain it within the region. 

Our work with in-country stakeholders including conservation organizations, universities, government agencies, and students is intentional to ensure that these conservation endeavors are done equitably and built to last.

Shedd is also proud to work in partnership with iconic Chicago conservation and science institutions like the Field Museum and The Morton Arboretum to maximize our impact and make key connections between aquatic and terrestrial conservation.

“The creation of the Center for Species Survival: Freshwater at Shedd Aquarium is a welcome addition to efforts to end the freshwater species extinction crisis. We look forward to the contribution of their science-based work in red listing, surveys, and action planning. This work will support a wide range of Indigenous peoples, local communities, conservation groups and governments working in global priority regions.”

Mike Baltzer, Executive Director of Shoal via Re: Wild

The new Center for Species Survival: Freshwater is being funded by the Walder Foundation, a private family foundation based in Skokie, Illinois, focused in part on funding work in environmental sustainability.

Walder foundation logo.

Learn more about Shedd's commitment to conservation and what you can do.