This post is written by Sabrina Moore, who will assist Dr. Boyd Kynard in our innovative Living Rivers School, that lets middle and high school -aged students participate in conservation biology research that, when published and shared, increases public knowledge of the living systems that sustain us.
When we know what sustains us, we take care of it—and ourselves.
Sabrina is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of North Texas and her research is conducted with Dr. James Kennedy in the U.S. and with Dr. Tamara Contador at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park on Navarino Island, Chile. It focuses on aquatic ecology.
Sabrina was awarded a NSF International Research Experiences for Students fellowship that took her to Cape Horn, where she studied and worked with our Omora Park and University of North Texas friends. (Our Place Summer School assistant directors Phoebe Gelbard and Ursa Heidinger have been awarded the same fellowship. Something wonderful is building here 🙂
Biocitizen asked Sabrina a few questions about her environmental philosophy, and here are her responses:
What does conservation of freshwater fish mean to you?
Out of all the vertebrates on the planet, fish are the most diverse group. What this means is when comparing any mammal, reptile, amphibian, in fact, anything with a backbone- fish have the greatest variety of shapes and functions. Half of the 36,000 species live in freshwater; yet freshwater (also our drinking water) makes up a very small portion of the Earth’s water. Water covers 70 percent of the planet and only 3.5% of this is freshwater. This limited resource is supporting a great diversity of freshwater fish that is vital to the health of the river and ultimately the health of the planet. This motivates me to protect the fish and work to keep our rivers clean and productive.
From your perspective as one of its founders, what is the Living Rivers School?
The Living Rivers School is an opportunity for me to teach and inspire students the same way someone once inspired me. I am excited to show the students the importance of healthy rivers and how the interactions of the fish and connection to the watershed give the river life.
I was 15 when my high school biology class travelled to an estuary. I remember pulling on waist high waders and walking out into the water with a large net. Every time I dipped my net into the water I brought up something–fish, seahorses, larval fish–and learned how these organisms relied on the estuary. I saw how this habitat provided abundant food and hiding places so that fish could grow large enough to migrate to rivers. I discovered with my classmates the importance of the estuary and its abilities to clean freshwater before it joins the ocean. The teacher also instilled into us the amazing ability of nature to heal itself and we worked on projects to assist the restoration of polluted degraded areas. The goal was to educate and to gain knowledge through scientific experimentation and research, but the trip also ignited something in me. It made me realized that fish as old as a sturgeon migrate out of these estuaries and return to the river, expecting there to be flowing, clear water and spawning grounds. It made me want to be a guardian of that freshwater.
I am now a PhD student in Chile, South America, working in the most pristine water in the world, studying the invasion of salmon. The community that lives on the island relies on rivers for their drinking water. My research has helped educate the community about how the salmon will harm the river and why fish farms installed in the ocean next to the island should be stopped.
Why are you interested in fulfilling the mission of the Living Rivers School?
I was taught to ask questions and find the answers by studying organisms in their natural habitats. I have also learned that I make choices every day that affect the balance of the natural world around me. As a society we have competing needs. How will we as the voice for the river, influence the community to value our limited supply of freshwater and recognize that fish are a vital component of that effort?
The mission of the Living River School is to show that we can make a difference. Right now, in Massachusetts there are dams that have been removed to protect and restore the endangered keystone species of the Connecticut River, the lamprey. This is a result of Biocitizen’s collaborating with local scientists and state agencies to generate change.
No matter what age the student, the experience of holding an ancient freshwater fish, like the sturgeon and the lamprey, will make an impression. It will open the eyes of how the student view the river, where this fish lives and will begin the dialogue of how these fish need our help and how we are all important to the river.