Caucasus Calling

BBC Planet Earth Series

Have just been re-watching the BBC Planet Earth series, and linking it to what I have also been learning about the Caucasus, and trying to think of ways in which to progress with the coming year, geography teaching, and expeditions.  Combined with the exam results for my older kids, it has really got me thinking, particularly at this concept of ‘biophilia’, and that as young kids we seem to be inherently drawn to nature, yet somehow as we get older often loose this connection and find it difficult to relate to.

The more I learn, the more afraid I become, and the more sad I am that we are losing things that we don’t even yet know exist in our everyday lives.  This is especially true and rings home my thoughts on living in Georgia since I arrived 14months ago.  I was originally drawn to Georgia because of its nature, when I came I was stunned by its beauty, but at the same time, much of this beauty was hidden under years of plastic and rubbish from Soviet times, and now from habit, yet so many Georgians don’t even seem to notice this. The more I understand about the species here and how many are under threat, the more I am wondering whether Georgians even realise just how lucky they are to live in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots!

One of the reasons for starting up the Oceans Project was because it saddened me to see how badly people were treating their life support system, not because they wanted to treat it badly, but just because they had no easier option or just didn’t know what they were doing or why it was so bad.  I wanted to educate young people, the future generation, on how to look after their planet, better than mine and my parents’ generations, and to not make the same mistakes that we did for one reason or another.  But now, there seems to be another way to try and bring about change, not just for Georgia, but to the rest of planet, as we are all globally connected.  The waste put into the Black Sea through its three major rivers: the Danube and Dunar especially, from all across Europe including Germany and Hungary, pollutes the people who live around the Black Sea basin.  But not just those people.  Water from the Black Sea then runs into the Mediterannean Sea, which runs into the Atlantic Ocean, so all that waste can end up back in the UK or West Indies or America.  What we do has effects not just on us, but on the whole planet. Children in Georgia are still affected by the nuclear fall out from Chernobyl in neighbouring Ukraine, and many species migrate across all of these countries too. Rich people in nightclubs or restaurants in LA and London are eating caviar contaminated by the debris and pollution in the same seas….not so appealing now eh! So why are we not all working together to conserve our planet? To clean it up? Many of us spend thousands of pounds each year on gym memberships and organic food, yet fail to think about the effects on the food we eat from our pollution. Surely it makes sense to look after our world that we live in?? My kids at school might not know where Georgia is on a  world map, and they might not understand the significance behind their prada bags or ipods or the material cost of those items for the planet, but they love nature, and surely it is their right to learn how they are affecting it on a daily basis??

In my research so far, I have come across numerous references to the biodiversity of the Caucasus, here is just one such piece from ‘Conservation International’ (http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/hotspots/caucasus/Pages/biodiversity.aspx)

UNIQUE AND THREATENED BIODIVERSITY 

Plants

The Caucasus hotspot is home to about 6,400 plant species, more than 1,600 of which (25 percent) are restricted to the region. There are 17 endemic genera of plants here, nine of which are associated with high mountain ecosystems. Endemism is particularly high in rocky-scree environments in this range; 80 percent of the plants growing on the Colchic limestone scree are found nowhere else in the world.

The flora of the Caucasus region includes many ancient species, and many forms are still dominant or co-dominant in the hotspot’s plant communities. Notable relict species include the endemic rhododendrons ( Rhododendron caucasicum,R. ungerniiR. smirnowii) and Persian ironwood ( Parrotia persica).

The region also harbors a remarkable concentration of economically important plants, particularly wild crop relatives such as wheat, rye and barley, as well as nuts and fruits like walnuts, apricots and apples.

Vertebrates

Birds

There are more approximately 380 bird species in the hotspot, though only one is endemic according to the definition of the region adopted here, namely the Caucasian snowcock ( Tetraogallus caucasicus). The hotspot hosts several globally threatened waterbird species, including the marbled duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris, VU), lesser white-fronted goose ( Anser erythropus, VU) and the white-headed duck ( Oxyura leucocephala, EN).

The hotspot contains significant numbers of breeding raptor populations and is an important corridor for migratory birds. Each summer and autumn, millions of birds pass through along two major migration routes on the east coast of the Black Sea and the west coast of the Caspian Sea.

Mammals

There are about 130 mammal species in the Caucasus hotspot, nearly twenty of which are endemic and several of which are threatened. Like other young mountain ranges, the Caucasus region has both newly evolved species as well as ancient relict species. Here, ancient and primitive mammals are represented by the unusual long-clawed mole-vole ( Prometheomys schaposchnikowi), and representatives of the genera MesocricetusSicista, and Apodemus.

Several large threatened mammal species are found in this hotspot, including the Caucasian tur ( Capra caucasica, EN), a member of the goat family. The Caspian monk seal ( Phoca caspica, VU) also breeds along the shores of the Caspian Sea. Threatened small mammal species occurring in the Caucasus include the Mediterranean horseshoe bat ( Rhinolophus euryale, VU), Mehely’s horseshoe bat ( R. mehelyi, VU), and the Armenian birch mouse ( Sicista armenica, CR), which is known only from the type locality

Reptiles 

Reptiles are represented by nearly 90 species, about 20 of which are endemic. The hotspot is a center of endemism for the lizard genera Lacerta and Darevskia; nearly half of the world’s 60 species are present in the Caucasus, and half of those are endemic. Interestingly, several of these species ( Darevskia dahli andD. armenica) are parthenogenic, meaning that there are no males, and females reproduce entirely on their own.

Other notable reptiles include the endemic Caucasian viper ( Vipera kaznokovi, EN). The venom of this species is useful for stopping excessive bleeding in surgery patients, and the snake is exploited for the black market trade.

Amphibians

Amphibian diversity is relatively low, with 17 species, only a few of which are endemic. The colorful Caucasian salamander ( Mertensiella caucasica, VU) is the region’s best-known amphibian species, endemic to the West Caucasus of Georgia and Turkey. One of the most remarkable amphibians in the hotspot is the Gorgan salamander ( Batrachuperus gorganensis, CR), which numbers only about 100 breeding adults and is restricted to Shir-Abad Cave and the stream flowing from it in northwestern Iran.

Freshwater Fishes

The region has more than 125 fish species, though only about a dozen are endemic. Among the most interesting species are three lampreys, Caspiomyzon wagneriEudontomyzon mariae and Lampetra lanceolata. Lampreys are ancient jawless, scaleless fish that date back 280 million years, and have the highest number of chromosomes of all vertebrates (164-174). Another ancient group of fish in the hotspot are seven species of sturgeon, including the famous Beluga sturgeon ( Huso huso, EN), the largest freshwater fish and the source of high-value caviar. Populations of all sturgeon species have been reduced through overharvesting, primarily for caviar, while other threats include water pollution and damming, which restricts anadromous migration.

Invertebrates

Invertebrates, especially insects, are quite diverse, and, in the uplands of the Caucasus, one can observe many examples of the varied insect life, including an endemic butterfly ( Parnassius nordmanni) and the Rosalia longicorn beetle (Rosalia alpine, VU).

Caucasus Calling?

Perhaps the title of the Land Rover expedition and overall project could be called ‘Caucasus Calling’ and be broken down into a series of lessons for my Geography classes? Each class has two 45minute lessons per week on average, and for approximately twelve weeks.  Effectively this means I could split the project into twelve sessions, with homework time used to review the videos I have made for them, and then the double lesson to cover activities in class.  I also cover classes for Key Stages 2, 3, and 4, so each would need to be of a different intensity, which is fairly tricky, and I have zero resources of funds for the project.

Week 1

The first week back at school is usually a fairly pointless one, with no lessons planned as such, just a way for the students to settle back into school, talk about their holiday and settle back in.  It is the same throughout Georgia for the both the first and final weeks of term.  But, I do feel that it is the best time to capture that refreshed and rejuvenated energy, and so it would be a good opportunity to introduce the topic to class, and to perhaps get them to watch one of the episodes from the BBC Planet Earth series, if I can find a way of showing videos. In my funding application I plan to apply for all sorts of such resources for use in class, to make life easier longer term.  I have the Planet Earth DVD series already, and hope I won’t be breaching any laws in showing them a clip from it.  The video footage and scenery is amazing, even for me as a fairly seasoned traveller, so I hope for the kids it will be even more amazing, as most have never even been outside of Georgia and have no concept of what other places or cultures look like outside of Georgia. Even those with things like access to Animal Planet often don’t believe their eyes and think it is somehow special effects only! But, it could be a good way to introduce the global problem of species and places disappearing and the problems our planet is facing?

All term the kids have been asking me about the film 2012, and whether it is real and if I believe the world will end this year.  I’d never seen or heard of the film until they continued to ask me about it, and I know it is often difficult for them to process material they have access to. How do they learn to differentiate a movie from a documentary? Actually, the reality of the issues facing our planet frightens me a lot more and is probably much more serious than any of us really realise. And ironically, a film about the end of the world probably raises more concern and interest than the reality of what we are experiencing already!

So, I think week 1 should be an introduction to the topic and our new way of learning, i.e. I will give them a video each week to watch and understand, as homework.

Week 2

I guess this week should involve different levels of lessons on maps.  Where exactly are the Caucasus, which countries are included, where is Georgia, what are the different types of landscape? What are the habitats and ecosystems of each area? What problems does each area face?

Weeks 3 and 4

Perhaps these weeks we will look at mountainous areas of the Caucasus, what do we mean by mountainous environments? Tourism, what animals can be found there, geography, links to my Austria visit, and which species we can find at the zoo.

Weeks 5 and 6

Forest environments of the Caucasus

Weeks 7 and 8

River environments of the Caucasus and river features.

Weeks 9 and 10

Coastal environments of the Caucasus

Weeks 11 and 12

Desert environments of the Caucasus

Each week we can look at the problems and threats for each species and try to come up with solutions and educational plans, and try to create information for each section that can then be used on my Land Rover expedition to educate children in the other countries about the Caucasus.  I’ll try to spend time at the zoo and with NGOs during term time, and with the OPG Ambassadors too, trying to make short videos about the Caucasus wildlife at the zoo, etc, and try and write fact sheets and take photographs that can be blown up or made into presentations for our trip.

Then on expedition, we visit schools and give a geography lesson based on the Caucasus, and when we reach the Caucasus part of our journey, we work with local people to try and collect some kind of data or video footage or photos to be added to the scientific pool of knowledge on those species.

For the second year of school, we can build on this by incorporating the video footage and knowledge and contacts from the journeys along the River Danuba and Dunar, as well as the coastal knowledge we gained from the expedition and coast of Georgia and Caspian Sea.

Hopefully we can somehow work alongside Caucasus focused groups and develop links between the countries and with OCeans Project Georgia, school, zoo, etc. We can then advertise and interview for the most suitable person to take the fourth place in the Land Rover, perhaps someone who has an interest in the Caucasus or is already a specialist in this field??

Since we hope to be at the International Wine Fair in London at the end of May promoting Georgian wine, perhaps even Caucasus Wine, maybe we can interest people in our planned adventure at the same time, generating maybe sponsorship, and publicity and links for school?? And promoting Georgia’s biodiversity, history and culture too.  Especially since the Caucasus has the highest mountain in Europe, and links to Noah’s ark, so it seems like the perfect place and way to raise awareness of the species threatened not just here, but globally too??

With only a few days left to make our applications, we really need to get a wriggle on…..

 

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About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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