Symposium

Today was the first time the Sophia University’s ecology course held a symposium. At first this sounded a little intimidating and rather tedious, but I have learned a great amount about Kushiro and salmon. It was an intriguing symposium and it made me learn about different people’s perspectives on conservation and sustaining the environment.

The keynote lecture by Dr. Bjorn Barlaup was extremely useful in understanding the book, “Becoming Salmon” by Marianne Elisabeth Lien.This talk reminded me of the book because she had talked about how “becoming salmon” is important to understand the relationship between humans and salmon. As a focus she talked about the specific ways in which one can try to become salmon, and one way was to empathize with salmon.  When we read the book in class, I learned key terms and concepts, yet it was hard to connect each concept with salmon farming in real life. Dr. Bjorn used his field study in Norway and his photos along with his explanation helped me understand salmon aquaculture. His lecture made me look at perspectives that I have never thought about before. For example, he talked about the development of the tools and system his research uses in order to count the amount of returning salmon in the Norwegian waters. He said that they are developing and perfecting a way in which they can count salmon without disrupting the salmon, because salmon are sensitive. I’ve never given thought about salmon’s sensitivity; it is admiring to know that as a salmon expert, Dr. Barlaup understands how salmon have their own comfort levels.
The talk by Mr. Kosugi helped me understand the perspective of a conservationist. Since I am writing my research paper about the question of who owns salmon, I wanted to know how conservationists would want to interact with salmon. Mr. Kosugi argued that the water gates of Kushiro River should be lifted because stopping the water flow of such a main and significant river of Kushiro is unnatural. He wants the local citizens to take care and balance the ecosystem. We have heard lectures and gotten tours from organizations such as MLIT and looked at the Kushiro River salmon trap site; the talk by Mr. Kosugi will help me in writing the point of view of a conservationist.

This symposium has helped me tremendously by giving me a deeper understanding of what each perspective of organizations. I notice that each organization and industry has their own reason of doing their job. Even though in the past the MLIT may have been labeled as the “bad” guys, they have their own reasons for doing what they do. There are many contributors in the issue of salmon caring. In recent years, nobody talks about how humans are better than nature, or how nature is a property that is made for humans. Talking about anthropocentrism and ethnocentrism is not simple anymore. I will have to remind myself that not one side is the “good” side, and not one side will always be “bad” people who wants to destroy nature.

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Walk around Lake Takkobu Area

Today the class met Mr. Terauchi, a park ranger at the Kushiro Wetland National Park. Mr. Jinma who works at the Kushiro Natural Environment Office was also present, and they guided us on this nature walk. From the moment we started the walk, our surrounding was full of bugs.The trail was not restructured for human convenience; we instead walked around deep waters, stepped over fallen trees, and pushed through the plants that were in our face. I have played in creeks throughout my childhood since I lived in the countryside of North Carolina. However, the creek that I played in was not in any way dangerous. Water flowed lazily and shallow, beaver dams were empty, no encounters with harmful bugs were present, and our parents can oversee the creek from the backyard. This was the first time that I have felt like I was getting a “true” experience of a natural creek.

We started off at the camping ground area where a few families played with their children near the parking lot. This surprised me because the place seemed too man-made compared to what I have imagined to be. However, we learned that National Parks in Japan has certain areas that serve different purposes. For example, while some areas can be owned privately, some others are government managed. Each area has their own regulations according to its classification.
About halfway into the walk Mr. Jinma and Mr. Terauchi handed us small nets to catch fish and the endangered Japanese crayfish. I have only seen the signal crayfish, (which I did not know was an invasive species), but the Japanese zarigani (crayfish) looked much smaller than the signal crayfish. After a few minutes of cluelessly trying to find the zarigani, I observed many of them actually hide under the muddy areas near the water. The class had the rich opportunity to watch a mother zarigani give birth.
At the end of the walk, Mr. Jinma explained to us that the whole trail we had walked actually came from one small source. The stream started off from a very small hole-like area that was continuously pouring water. It is truly fascinating to see that such a small water source that I would consider insignificant actually contributed to the creation of a big creek that serves as a home for animals, water source for animals, and much more.
When learning about the environment, it is crucial that we do not fall into the trap of assuming that we have learned “enough”. There is always more that what we already know of that we can learn from nature. And from this walk, I truly felt that going out of one’s way to experience “nature” is the best way to understand the environment.

Akkeshi Tour: Oyster Farms and Hatchery

Akkeshi is a coast on the Eastern part of Hokkaido, about an hour and a half away from Kushiro. This area is known to be part of the Ramsar Site, recognized internationally as an important wetland site under the Ramsar Convention. Today, we went to the the oyster farm owned by カキキン (Kin’s Oyster company).

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Deck of Kin’s Oyster Boat

 

Kin’s Oyster farm has a large area of water organized in transversal lines with buoys lined up. The owner told us that many oyster farms had unorganized and poorly managed farms, until the 3.11.11 tsunami. The effects of that natural disaster had washed away all unorganized debris around the farm, so the government stepped in to help the farmers re-establish an efficient structure that can sustain oysters annually.

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Kin’s Oyster Logo

We started off on a small boat, with wooden planks held together by plastic crates underneath to serve as our seats for the ride. The owner of Kin’s Oyster greeted us and started the engine to show us the ocean side of the water first. This ride was a smooth, fast ride with the wind breezing off our caps. It was a very sunny and chill mini tour of Akkeshi waters. I noticed that the water was light green; it reminded me of the CDOM lecture that our class had listened to at the Akkeshi Marine Station this morning. From my understanding of the lecture is that the colors of the water change according to light-absorbing substances in the ocean. The substance, (chlorophyll) produces carbon with phytoplankton because of photosynthesis. The phytoplankton absorb red and blue due to photosynthesis, and reflects green which makes the ocean appear green. As a result, waters with a lot of phytoplankton will have a green color. In contrast, water without much phytoplankton will have a different color. This part of the tour was a ride in the ocean that is conventionally thought to be “blue” or “beautiful green” in color.

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Akkeshi Marine Station

Next, he turned the boat to direct us towards the lake side. The lake side is where the oyster farm is located. There were two types of farming that Kin’s Oyster conducts. Oysters that grow by being attached on scallop shells, and the other a single-seed method. Fun fact: the latter method is what Kakiemon, a popular brand of Oysters from Akkeshi use.

The water in the farming area was shallow, and the boat had to be stopped multiple times because of the alarm coming from the engine. The owner explained that since there are too many eel grass that gets caught in the engine, he has to constantly remove the plants from the engine in order to safely drive the boat. I looked down to examine the water, and noticed that it was much more “dirty” looking. In other words, the water was very yellow-brown in color. However, I have learned that it is not exactly “dirty” from the lecture. The lake’s water is different from the ocean side, because dissolved organics compounds are in the water from the result of the plants. I have felt that the lectures have helped me notice small changes like this, and understand the in a scientific or ecological way.

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In the end of the tour, we had the opportunity to meet the workers that help clean the oysters that were harvested. They steadily worked on the oysters downstairs, while upstairs a renovation was going on in his soon-to-be-completed oyster bar.

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Oyster Bar under renovation

Sinks into lake

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Last day in the outdoors and using our boots, you will be missed. Since we had a break day the day before, it took my brain some time to process my surrounding and actually sink in the fact that I have actually move today. But I think today’s activity was the one I had most fun with. The moment the bus arrived at the lake, I wonder how deep are we going into the lake today since last time we didn’t get to explore much of the wetland. Since the boat was small, we had to take turns going to the sea grass bed site. While the first team went ahead, the others and I get to actually get into the lake. That was the fun part in my opinion. We went to the part reaching our waist and it actually was a great feeling being the water. Also, using this bucket thing we get to see the underwater ecosystem. We even caught glimpse of crabs. One more thing, who knew it would be that difficult. It was quite an amusing sight, all of us basically turned into tunas being fished out of the sea. Only after we got to the site did I realized how much of the area was covered by the sea grass. So we collected some of the sea grass and went back to the shore. To my surprise, there was actually a variety of life forms revolving around the sea grass. At first glance, there does not seem to be much. We even captured a number of fishes.

Eats

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Since today is another free day, we had a pretty late start for the day. By just 30 minutes actually because everyone was tired from the consecutive activity days and preparations for the Wanda Grinda project. So after breakfast, the work continues. Each group had to present their progress and receive comments from the professors. I think some of the comments we received was the fact that our choice of topic was kind of too broad. The idea of presenting the wetland flow using the Olstrom framework was not bad but we should have a chosen a particular area to focus on; for example, asdfghjkl. In the end, we changed the whole draft again. Moving on, it was time for barbecue ! I was really looking forward to it since I guess it was my first real barbecue. I mean I always see it on television but I never actually get to experience. I think I had one in Malaysia before but I’m sure the way of doing it was different. I also made a self discovery on this day. I never knew I actually liked guarana drinks. I have drank guarana coffee before so I was expecting a bitter taste but rather it tasted sort of berry-like. Eventually, I ended up drinking 5 cans since the others didn’t really like it and gave theirs to me lol. Besides that, since Bibi and I were the only ones eating meat at our table we had everything all to ourselves. We didn’t even eat half of the amount and already felt full. There weren’t only beef and lamb but also salmon, squid, onigiri and some other stuff. When the other tables we were still eating, our table already moved on to the marshmallows. I actually left early because I felt kind of sick after drinking too much guarana. I drank calpis and milk tea after too so I think my stomach couldn’t handle processing too much variety of food. I ate so much I think that was probably a day’s worth of meal.

Halfway through

First part of the day was a hike near Lake Takkobu. Before that we had a small lecture on the activities being done in preserving the lake by the rangers. I was actually surprised to see the abundance of water chestnuts there. It was not really visible at first but once you noticed it actually covers about 90 percent of the lake. Example of invading species I would say. They are indeed trying to reduce the population and explained the actions being carried out twice a year. After that, we were shown the reforestation project site. It takes about a few years before the trees can be transferred on site. The next part was the interesting part for me. Hiking up the steep hill to the observatory on top. Along the way, we had an activity involving catching bugs and then identifying them. This is because bugs determine the condition of the forest. We also got to see the Karamatsus ! (There is a reason for this excitedness)

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Moving on, to the session after lunch at Shibecha High School. I find the school to be very unique and I think its good that they’re assimilating the education system to the town’s trait industries. Walking in their miniature wetland was fun too after all the wetland areas we went, I’m starting to get used to it.  Talking to the students there sort of gave me a new perspective on life. First of all, the way we think was very far apart. For example, they really like being in their town despite being far from facilities and modernity. As said, they like the peace and quiet in the countryside. I guess they’re really comfortable with how life is now to the point that they don’t really want to leave Hokkaido (to my surprise). I could say that I have been pretty much brainwashed by the city life. I mean being surrounded by nature is good too but I don’t think it would be my choice of living environment. Perhaps once in a while for a change of pace. One more thing worth mentioning is the bread which was really good, I pretty much ate everything since I could not eat the sausages.

Of Rivers and Restoration

Let me begin by saying this: I don’t know how I survived this day. I really don’t. Especially not after yesterday’s schedule. I was quite sure that I’d faint or worse today but somehow, I made it though the morning and afternoon sessions without getting anything worse than a stinging itch from a plant. In the morning, I woke up late so I had to rush breakfast to make it in time for the bus to the Megumi Park where we met up with around a dozen other people who would accompany us to the river walk along the Iwabokki Sluice and the (old) Kushiro river. Our guide for the morning was the Kushiro Salmon Society’s chairperson, Kosugi-san, with other members such as Shimizu-san. There was even a cameraman from NHK. The bus was unusually filled up with people as we rode to the sluice first. I’d imagined the sluice as old and unsteady but when we went around to the front, where its heavy, rusted gates held the water of the Kushiro river steady, I had to admit that the gate was still functioning (for better or for worse) even well after half a century of being built. The Iwabokki sluice is at the center of a heated, decades-long debate about whether it should be opened or not, to allow the Kushiro river to flow again and consequently, allow marine life such as salmon to come upstream. The main opposition is the fear of the accumulated sediment flowing into the Kushiro wetland and further causing the wetland area to decrease. To the Kushiro Salmon Society, however, it would be better to open the sluice to stop the stagnation of the river. We clearly saw the state of the Kushiro river as we walked along its banks for about two and a half hours. The path we walked on was a new path, where no one had ever gone before— fairly dangerous, I think. I almost slipped on the makeshift bridge at the beginning and actually slipped as we crossed the drainage area. In addition to that, we also had to fend off mosquitoes, horseflies and other species we disturbed in the area. As we walked, I observed that the water was only disturbed on the surface by insects— it was clear that the river’s depths remained fairly still, as it had been ever since the sluice was built. Of course, during heavy rainfall, such as the 3/11 storm, it would be disturbed but after that, it would return to its stagnancy. The riverbank was overgrown with ferns and some areas were cleared of plants. Kosugi-san (or was it Shimizu-san, I can’t remember very well) suggested that the plants were eaten by deer in the area. I was just glad he didn’t say bears. There were also some thorny plants on the other side of the river as we walked back to the bus.

After a late lunch, we went to the Kayanuma River Restoration Site, where we met Sugawara-san and his staff from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism. He was to guide us to two river restoration sites: one in Kayanuma and the other in Hororo. I wasn’t able to get close to the Kayanuma river because I was dizzy from the noontime heat but I did see that the river seemed to flow quite energetically due to the restoration. The water was also considerably clearer and cleaner than the water from the Kushiro river. In Hororo, however, I was able to get into the wetland since it was later in the afternoon and the heat wasn’t as bad as it was earlier. Sugawara-san explained that to get to the peat, the soft, wetland soil, they had to clear away about forty centimeters of topsoil. When I asked where the topsoil went, he simply answered that it was taken to places where they needed it. I had to wonder: Is that why they needed to plant trees along the riverbank? To hold the topsoil in place? And if the soil was only taken elsewhere, that meant that in due time, it would return to the wetland, making this “restoration” a temporary solution to the problem of the shrinking wetland. Anyway, I was hoping we’d go into the deeper part of the wetland but due to lack of time, we were only able to go to the fairly shallow area— my boots only sunk about five or six inches into the mud at most. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult to walk in the peat. If I stood still too long, I’d sink right into the ground.