Tuesday, December 18, 2007

River Beauty, River Threat

River of Words is an annual event that gathers poetry and art inspired by rivers from children across the globe. This year the group chose a deeply insightful poem 'Rivers' written by seven year old José Perez from Florida as the winning riverpoem for 2007.

'Rivers splatter,
hitting rocks below.
But don’t be afraid,
there is poetry
deep inside each crevice.'

River of Words (ROW) has developed curriculum to assist teachers assist children to learn about river systems in their local bioregion. They encourage the development of local knowledge, as they say, 'to help you bring your watershed’s cultural and natural history alive for your students and community.'

On the ROW website is an article by the poet and deep ecologist Gary Snyder titled 'Coming into the Watershed'. Snyder writes:

'A watershed is a marvelous thing to consider: this process of rain falling, streams flowing and oceans evaporating causes every molecule of water on earth to make the complete trip once every two million years.' Two million years!

Two million years is length of the revolving water cycle and the ongoing relationship of living river to living ocean. This dynamic interconnection over such a long timeframe is now severely threatened. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has documented the litany of threat and disaster in it report World’s Top 10 Rivers at Risk' (2007). Two of the rivers singled out are the Murray and Darling rivers, the lifeblood of this nation.

In addition to structural and flow concerns, the report outlines that another major threat to the Murray-Darling river system comes from invasive fish (e.g. carp) and plant species. For example, it mentions that in Australia, the numbers of feral fish species emanating from the aquarium trade has increased from 22 to 34 in recent years.

The Brisbane River is small fry in comparison although it too has its fair share of feral threats - some of them human. Recent media reports have raised the ire of locals through their focus on one aggressive visitor to the river, the famed Bull Shark. Locals (interviewed by the media) are decidely edgy about what is considered 'one of the most dangerous sharks in the world' (ABC Catalyst, 2003).

What is so special about the Bull Shark is its remarkable ability to live in both fresh and salt water as well as the distances it travels upstream, up to 80 kms from Moreton Bay. Fishers say they can catch 8 to 10 sharks on a good day (see Ausfish, 2004). In 2006, the Courier Mail reported a commercial fisher netting 64 Bull Sharks in the Logan River, south of Brisbane. One fisher reported: 'The sharks were so thick, it was like the water was boiling.'

Earlier this year the Daily Telegraph (UK) carried an article about the dangers of Bull Sharks and how Queensland locals are dealing with them. I wonder who is monitoring these aggressive actions against these creatures.

'There are thousands upon thousands of them ... You could catch 10 a night if you wanted to. They'll bite your boat, chew your engine. People catch them as they're cooking their snags [sausages] and prawns on the barbie....

Another local commented that he's 'caught a dozen sharks from his sixth-floor balcony in between playing video games and watching television. 'We sit in the lounge room with the rods set up and play the PlayStation, waiting for the bites.' While a third fisher sets up his fishing gear then 'retreats to his living room to watch DVDs' until he hears there's a bite on the line.

The Daily Telegraph article continued: 'Fisheries officials say they are opposed to a shark cull and people must learn to live with the potential man-eaters. 'They have as much right to be in the water as we do,' said Jeff Krause, district manager of the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol'.

But the concern is that there is little attention paid to this living room culling of these special animals. Are there bag limits on taking Sharks? And how is it patrolled when people are fishing from their sofas?

Yesterday my friend told me she'd seen dolphins upstream in the river and her children were very excited. What a river! Sharks, dolphins, beauty and danger. In the words of a seven year old from Florida:

'But don’t be afraid,
there is poetry
deep inside each crevice.'
José Perez