Small bugs can help tell a big-picture story about the conditions of their environment. FISHBIO is currently working with The Asia Foundation in Laos on a program that trains villagers in rural communities to monitor the health of their local streams. People can monitor tell the quality of the river water based on the presence of different kinds of aquatic insects (water bugs) and other invertebrates. These animals serve as an “indicator”: they “indicate” water quality based on whether they are present or absent. Sensitive species will only be present if water quality is good, but will disappear if the water becomes polluted or loses oxygen. Hardier species will still be present even if the water quality declines. FISHBIO staff recently traveled to six villages in Vientiane Province to help run an education program for teachers and students on the basics of water quality monitoring using aquatic insects as indicators.
The program included a one-day training in six primary schools, with an in-class lesson and a field activity in the stream. About 30 students participated in each school, representing grades 4 and 5. We taught the teachers how to do a water quality monitoring survey, including collecting water bugs with kick nets, then identifying and counting 38 different kinds of animals. These aquatic animals include insects, shrimp, clams, and leeches. Students learned the importance of clean water, then learned a simplified version how to do the survey, and were taught to identify different a few invertebrates present in their village. They participated in some songs and games, then got to practice invertebrate identification in the field. We hope that students and the rest of their community will develop a love for biology and investigating the health of their natural environment!