The freshwater ecosystems explorer provides a free and easy to use geospatial platform and data products to help decision makers access national, sub-national, and basin level data on freshwater ecosystems.

For questions or support please send an email to:

sdg661@un.org or unenvironment-science-sdgs@un.org.

Why protect freshwater ecosystems

Freshwater, in sufficient quantity and quality, is essential for all aspects of life and fundamental to sustainable development. Water-related ecosystems - including lakes, rivers, wetlands and groundwater - supply water and food to billions of people, provide unique habitats for many plants and animals and protect us from droughts and floods. Water-related ecosystems possess enormous biological, social, educational and economic values. They sustain the global hydrological cycle, carbon cycle and nutrient cycles. They provide natural purified freshwater, regulate flows and extreme conditions. The goods and services derived from these ecosystems span the breadth of the sustainable development spectrum and underpin sector-wide activities including water for drinking, agriculture, employment, energy generation, navigation, recreation and tourism. Protecting or restoring water-related ecosystems, such as wetlands, coastal mangrove forests and natural flood plains in watercourses is an important nature-based mitigation approach, as these ecosystems act as carbon sinks absorbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Well-functioning water-related ecosystems and the proper management of water resources has a role in achieving all 17 of the SDGs. However, a significant challenge to effectively protect and restore water-related ecosystems is that the management of these systems often is focused on water provision entirely for human and productive uses, with insufficient consideration taken to ensure the integrity of ecological functions and the biodiversity of species therein. A consequence has been the sacrifice of freshwater life, which can ultimately also lead to the destruction of the ecosystems required to support these same objectives. Nowhere is the biodiversity crisis more acute than in freshwater ecosystems (Albert et al, 2020). Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. An estimated 87 per cent of all wetlands were lost globally in the last 300 years, and more than 50 per cent since 1900 (Gardner et al, 2018).

Threats to water-related ecosystems (flow alteration; loss of connectivity; pollution; habitat degradation and loss; overexploitation of species) are driven by human activities for agriculture, power generation, urbanization, industry, mining, flood management and domestic water supply. Decision makers should utilise all information at their disposal that enable them to better understand the threats to water-related ecosystems and implement appropriate threat mitigation measures. SDG target 6.6 aims to protect and restore water-related ecosystems so that they can continue to benefit both people and the planet. SDG indicator 6.6.1 tracks changes in different types of water-related ecosystem enabling decision makers to determine the extent of ecosystem change over time. The indicator data is intended to support all sector-wide decision-making processes that may impact the quantity and quality of freshwater found in lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, mangroves, rivers and groundwaters.

For countries to develop sustainably we must restore and protect water-related ecosystems.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is partnering with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and Google to provide free and open data on the environment in a way that is policy-friendly, so that citizens and governments can easily assess what is actually happening to the world's natural resources.This partnership is founded on the belief that data is the foundation for our understanding of the environment. Data provides a basis for assessing change across time, for analyzing the environmental challenges facing a particular area, and for determining the need for local, national and global action on the environment.

Founding Partners

United Nations Environment Programme

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. UNEP is also the custodian for 26 Sustainable Development Goal indicators related to the environment. UNEP is the custodian agency for SDG indicator 6.6.1. The data on this portal directly contributes to the official global monitoring of SDG indicator 6.6.1 on changes to freshwater ecosystem extent.


Google’s mission is to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google Earth Outreach and Google Earth Engine are part of a broader team dedicated to leveraging and developing Google’s infrastructure to address global environmental, health and humanitarian issues. Projects are generally in partnership with area experts, focus on data driven approaches and visualizations at scale to bring greater transparency and awareness, create new tools to understand system dynamics and better inform decision making.

The European Commission

The European Commission is an institution of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the European Union treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the European Union. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to European Union policy.

Contributing Partners

UNEP-DHI Centre on Water and Environment

The UNEP-DHI Centre on Water and Environment is a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) centre of expertise, dedicated to improving the management, development and use of freshwater resources from the local to the global level. The UNEP-DHI Centre is a core resource for UNEP’s work on freshwater issues, and in delivering on its Programmes of work and Freshwater strategies, including promoting sustainable water resources management and supporting the water-related SDG targets.


DHI GRAS produced the wetlands data product. DHI GRAS is specialised in satellite image and data processing for hydrology, water quality, environmental assessment and land cover mapping. DHI GRAS handles the entire data flow from the reception and processing of satellite images to the delivery of the requested final information product.

Global Mangrove Watch

Global Mangrove Watch has produced the mangroves data product. Global Mangrove Watch is a collaboration between Aberystwyth University (U.K.), solo Earth Observation (soloEO; Japan), Wetlands International the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), NASA;,and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

EU Copernicus Earth Observation Programme

"Copernicus - Europe's eyes on Earth

Copernicus is the European Union's Earth Observation Programme, looking at our planet and its environment for the ultimate benefit of citizens.

It offers free and open access information services based on satellite Earth Observation and in situ data.

It aims at providing accurate, timely and easily accessible information to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure civil security. Within Copernicus, the Global Land component of the Land Service produces long term time series of bio-geophysical products on the status the vegetation, the water cycle, the energy budget and the terrestrial cryosphere.

The lake water turbidity and trophic state index used in this SDG 6.6.1 web portal, where produced by Brockmann Consult produced Plymouth Marine Laboratory on behalf of the European Union’s Copernicus Programme."