Focusing Our Efforts
After a number of discussions with people in the region on content, logistics and potential participants, the Center’s scientific and education staffs decided that the best way to reach the most diverse and significant audiences and to maximize the impact of the work we were doing was to give a series of daylong workshops geared specifically to the following participants:
- local public- and private-sector decision makers
- conservation planners, non-governmental organization staff members, and university faculty; and
- eco-tourism guides.
This focus enabled us to target our educational efforts at groups that could both use the information in their own work and influence a range of audiences that would ensure a broad dissemination of the issues, information, knowledge and monitoring techniques. It also enabled us to engage in discussions with local leaders and workers who are currently in positions to make decisions about the use and protection of water resources and with teachers whose students will become the stewards of the future.
Presented in Spanish and offered free of charge, the workshops bolstered the conservation efforts of core preserved areas in the neo-tropics, discussed the latest scientific and educational knowledge on issues affecting fresh water, offered practical and affordable methods for monitoring streams and rivers, taught stewardship practices that the participants can both use themselves and transmit to others, and encouraged appropriate conservation policies in the region — particularly the importance of maintaining forest cover.
Each workshop began with a discussion on the local and global importance of clean fresh water, the many roles clean water plays in their personal lives and local economies, a basic understanding of the ecology of streams and rivers, and usable ways to determine the health of the water in their communities. The opening lecture set the stage for the rest of the day by framing the issues, providing simple but essential statistical and general information about water resources, explaining the relationship of land use to stream health and the impact of human activities on water quality, and discussing the critical role that streams flowing through conserved areas play in the region.
Workshop participants then visited a nearby stream where they perform actual measurements of water quality and to collect aquatic macroinvertebrate animals — insects, snails, crabs, and worms — that provide a biological measure of stream health. The group learned how to make basic measurements of water flow and chemistry and to collect and identify aquatic organisms. An introduction to macroinvertebrate identification and the role the stream animals played as indicators of water quality was presented prior to a laboratory session spent sorting and identifying the animals they had collected that morning.
Developing New Protocols
While North America and Europe have a long history of biomonitoring, including well-defined sampling protocols and analysis methods, protocols for Central and South America are in earlier stages of development. Development of simple macroinvertebrate analysis tools, widely used in the United States, is difficult when the macroinvertebrate community is not well known.
In Peru we focused on the abundance and types of taxa identified as indicators of stream health. A comparison of four streams in the Madre de Dios representing different land uses illustrated how basic chemical and biological monitoring could help determine future conservation restoration or conservation priorities. During the Costa Rica workshops we also tried using the Virginia Save Our Streams metrics with fairly good success. The need for simple macroinvertebrate analysis tools remains a future need.
Perhaps the most consistent message that came through in both verbal and written commentary on the workshops was “we want more” — more information, more time to learn, more and better tools to make a difference, more workshops in the future for people to attend. A corresponding message was “we want it now”... because, with the rate of change in the region, time is of the essence.
Sharing the Resources
We encourage others to utilize the training template and resources developed for this project.