A Comprehensive Exploration of Local Waterways
By Anthea Hudson
This project can be undertaken as a class activity, or a family discovery over time. As there are quite a few fairly involved aspects to be covered, it may be more productive to work in pairs or small groups. You may, of course, choose to only do one, or a limited selection of the suggestions.
Young environmentalists carry out surveys, collect samples, keep records and actively become involved in the preservation of various waterways, or sections of one waterway. This can be done using a major waterway such as a river, or a creek system. Regular discussions should be held to compare findings, address problems etc.
Important Note: Make sure that you find out if taking physical samples might violate regulations of the particular area, before doing so. For certain collecting, such as official herbarium collecting, you may be able to get a permit from your local government, if it is normally against regulations. If venturing onto, or collecting, on private property, you must have the permission of the landowner.
Safety should always be of top priority and therefore water safety aspects should be discussed. Younger children should be accompanied by an adult at all times while working in the vicinity of water, and ideally even older children should be monitored.
- Create photographic records of various aspects of the waterway. These could also be taken at various times of the year to record seasonal changes to the riverscape.
- Take water samples at various times of the year, and at various locations along the waterway. Note down any observations. Devise some tests for ascertaining water quality such as pollutants, salinity, sediment, algae etc.
- Collect samples of pebbles/sand/mud from river/creek bed at various locations. Note down your observations about their constitution and how they vary.
- Survey the animal, bird and insect life of the area. Record sounds such as birds, insects and frogs. How does the wildlife change from one part of the waterway to another? Why do you think these changes occur?
- Perform a vegetation survey of various parts of your waterway/s, including identification of plants and their frequency in the area, what is flowering at various times etc. How does the plant life vary from one part of the waterway to another and why do you think this is so?
Official Herbariums offer identification services if you have trouble in identifying a plant- however some do charge, so check this in advance. Local plant special interest groups may also be able to help. Plant identification guides are often available at your library, and there's lots of information online.
Australia's Virtual Herbarium may be of interest to you if you want to find out more, however you need to know what you are looking for!
- Find out what is native and what is not, and identify any weed/exotic problems that might need addressing and why it is important.
- Find out who this problem should be reported to. Become involved in the weed eradication project if possible.
- Create a herbarium collection of the area. Research the proper requirements for this. You may also like to collect samples for official Herbariums at the same time.
Here are some useful guides to creating a herbarium from Australian Government departments, which include general principles, as well as field guide notes.
- Create a comprehensive photographic record of the vegetation, including the plant as a whole, its leaves close-up, flowers, seed pods etc.
- What areas are degraded and may need re-vegetation efforts? What organisation might help with this? Get involved!
- Record interesting features noted such as areas of considerable erosion, strata layers, springs and waterholes, evidence of flooding such as debris in trees and boulders that have moved since last recording.
- Research how the local area has utilised this waterway, such as collecting the water into a reservoir, piping it for irrigation, watering livestock, swimming, fishing, boating etc.
- What businesses are reliant on the waterway in any way? Tourism? Water supply? Transport? Fish Industry?
- Collect all of the litter that you can find in each area of the waterway that you visit. Record what you collected. Does they amount and type of litter vary from place to place? Why? Make a deduction as to how the various items came to be there. Have they blown from a nearby park or shopping centre? Been washed down the river? Directly been disposed of in the area by litterers?
- Create graphs or other ways to present all of your comparison data.
- Create a map showing the location of the path of your waterway and mark on it important features, such as vegetation/ecosystem types, areas of degradation, reservoirs, weirs, ferries etc, springs, waterholes, location of things of concern such as pollution sources or bad weed infestation.
- Create a presentation about your waterways/s and your discoveries, such as a PowerPoint presentation, slide show with live commentary, booklet or series of posters.
- Consider organising an evening for the local community where you share your presentations to help raise awareness of the importance of your waterways, the problems they face and how people can become involved.
- Hold a "Riparian Picnic" on the riverbank in an appropriate location, for your family, class, or even an invitation to the whole community. Encourage the students to share their discoveries and thoughts with those attending the picnic to stimulate public enthusiasm for protecting the waterway.
- Stop... Listen... Look... Smell...
Relax and spend some time taking in the river with your senses.
Then write about your observations and your feelings.
Write a poem inspired by the river.
Create a song.
Sketch what you see.