Bringing together the impacts of losing biodiversity and changes to physical river processes, a team of experts headed by Steve Lockett, Education and Outreach Officer of Mahseer Trust, toured schools in Bengaluru and Mysuru around the festival period of Shivaratri, and introduced Kaveri Mission to more than 800 eager students and teachers.
Concerns about water supply as the River Cauvery loses its capacity to deliver have been adding to the woes of the river’s fauna and flora. Not least among these is the mighty hump-back mahseer, the largest mahseer in the world and found only in the Cauvery river basin.
At three events, held at: Frank Anthony Public School in Bengaluru; for students of Learning Curve School who attended the Natural History Museum in Mysuru; and finally at Arivu School in Mysuru, expert presentations on aspects of biodiversity were given by Dr Priti Gururaj on amphibians, Deepthi Narasimaiah on community use of riparian habitats, and Dr K V Gururaja with his fun look at frog calls and displays. Prior to these insightful looks, Steve Lockett explained about Kaveri Mission and how it links to the lives of all who live within the River Cauvery basin.
“The sacred River Cauvery, or Kaveri as it is called in Kannada, has for thousands of years been seen as the lifeblood of the region.” Steve said. “Indeed, worship of goddess Kaveri shows how the river is revered. As a top predator, the hump-back mahseer can be seen as the ‘tiger of the river’ and is a perfect bio-indicator. If the mahseer is suffering through loss of river habitat, then all who rely on the river’s waters are in peril.”
Using an Emriver 2 modelling table, from US company, Little River Research and Development, Claire Pinder, a geography teacher, gave the students a range of tasks to perform and demonstrate to their peers the impacts of various human changes to river functions. The river table pumps water through a bed of a recycled plastic media that mimics river bed sediments. By introducing a coloured dye, the spread of pollution can be shown; building a house on the river bank, damming the river, or mining for sand can all be modelled and the changes to the course of the river will be shown.
Most dramatic of the impacts shown is when a house is built and the river bank is fortified with a rock defence. “I never expected that to happen” was one of the most common expressions as the river quickly eroded behind the defence and the house tumbled into the river.
Concern over water use means that rainwater harvesting is a legal requirement in Karnataka, although many individuals and businesses do not follow it. At Frank Anthony Public School, they supply all of their needs through this method, and also supplied the 100 litres needed to drive the Em2. Following each event, the water used was carefully sieved to remove the base media, and then either returned to the water supply for irrigation purposes, or used directly by students to water the gardens.
At Arivu School (www.arivu.org), a purpose-built facility following local farmers’ having to use their own buildings to teach their children the importance of local culture and learning methods, Steve also laid out an art project for the students to follow over the next few weeks. Through this, they will show how the story of goddess Kaveri can be a powerful tool to engage river users about the connection between river processes and the ecosystem.
On the last day of the tour, the Press Association of Mysore called Steve to a press conference, and delivered a number of questions about the links between the plight of the hump-back mahseer, the current status of the River Cauvery and how Kaveri Mission links the whole conservation effort. This lead to articles appearing in many news outlets, with the backdrop of local protests against the removal of forests in Coorg district and the fight by Save River Cauvery campaign to stop the loss of critical habitat.