School students of small town in Uttarakhand secured fifth position in Asia in the Global Biodiversity Documentation

A group of students shouted in joy in their school while surfing the internet when they found Nanakmatta stood fifth in Asia and second in India after Hyderabad at the ‘City Nature Challenge 2024’. This is the collective result of 188 students' enthusiasm for understanding the nature around their city. The joy of this becomes rational when their town of nine thousand people is far ahead compared to cosmopolitan cities like Tokyo, Delhi, Kolkata, London, and Washington.

This small town, Nanakmatta, situated in the Terai region of Uttarakhand ranked second in India and 30 among around 695 cities in the Globe in biodiversity documenting competition known as the ‘City Nature Challenge’ (CNC). CNC is an international event that motivates people worldwide to find and document flora and fauna in their cities. From 2016 onwards, this public science program has been run by the Community Science teams at the California Academy of Sciences and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Every year, cities all over the world take part in this friendly and fun competition to see who can gather the most observations of nature and find the most species.

Nanakmatta as a town has been participating in CNC since 2021 led by the students of Nanakmatta Public School. Globally 695 cities participated in this year's CNC, which is the highest number till now. It signifies the level of awareness and the need to document the biodiversity around urban clusters. Notably, the number of participating cities grew from 450 in 2023 to more than 690 in 2024, one of the biggest jumps in CNC history. In 2021 Nanakmatta was the only town in India, but this year 300 Indian cities participated. CNC as part of Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge. Through citizen science, people share and contribute to data monitoring and collection programs.

The Students of Nanakmatta Public School have also participated in other citizen science programs like River Bioblitz and Great Backyard Bird Count. This time these students took part in CNC led by the school alumni Kapil Chand. A few days before the start of this program, he interacted with the students and shared with them about the iNaturalist app. In this app, anyone can upload their observations from all around the world and this app helps people identify that particular species or observation. The iNaturalist App on which the CNC observations are uploaded, is a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.

Climate change and its impacts on human life have been part of the daily news bulletin in this alternative school in Nanakmatta. As North India gradually approaches extreme heat, hundreds of students ride on their bicycles before the Sun appears in the east. They were slowly moving to a spot mentioned in their school WhatsApp groups the previous night by the school administration. Villagers wondered what these students were searching for in the bushes in the early hours of the day. A local fisherman soon recognized and quipped, “These kids from Nanakmatta Public School are again here to take pictures of insects!”.

This year students of NPS recorded 19345 observations and identified 1961 species. Till now around 12 percent of observations have been identified as ‘research grade’ category observations, that the scientific community may use as important data to know the bio-health of a particular region.

When 72 species are becoming globally extinct in a single day, this exercise seems very significant in the rich biodiversity and wetland of Nanakmatta. Rapid urbanization and intensive agriculture practices are systematically becoming a threat to biodiversity in regions that are made of fertile humus coming from the Himalayas through two water streams.

This time three cities from the eco-sensitive Himalayan state Uttarakhand participated in CNC. Dehradun and Haridwar have observed 64 and 10 observations respectively in this four-day event. Nanakmatta Public School has 80 percent of its kids from rural regions and was the only town in South Asia in 2021 to participate in CNC.

The four-day event is supported by different organizations and institutions in different cities like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Delhi. Here in Nanakmatta it was largely organized by the senior students of Nanakmatta Public School who are trained and supported by Palampur-based organization ‘Life Meets the Lens’ and its founder Vikram Singh. This year Vikram directed students from the IIT Gandhinagar virtually where he is associated with research projects. In Nanakmatta, Kapil Chand (an Alumni of NPS), communicated with the organizer of CNC and registered Nanakmatta as a participant in this event. Before students mobilized on the ground to document biodiversity, Kapil and his classmate Arun Joshi had several sessions in school to inform the students about the need for documentation and familiarize them with documenting the observations.

From the 26th to the 29th of April, students went in large groups towards biodiversity hotspots around Nanakmatta before sunrise. They were equipped with GPS-enabled mobile phones and water bottles along with their school bags so that they could immediately join the school after observations. Even in the evening, students in groups again did the same as decided by a group of students and teachers. Students of grades 7th to 12th participated in this event. Those senior students with earlier experience documenting biodiversity assisted their juniors in making IDs on the iNaturalist app and uploading the observations.

After uploading 19,386 observations, students and teachers of Nanakamtta Public School are trying to make sense of these data. There are some important findings and trends that this data is indicating. While comparing the years 2021, 2022, 2023, and 2024 changes were observed in the biodiversity of Nanakmatta.The city nature challenge is done every time in April and for the last three years, the students of NPS have seen a pattern that while doing the documentation every time in April there were a lot of a mushrooms. But now in 2024, the students have not found many mushrooms. Since 188 students and teachers have participated in this collection, they all have a story to tell and share with those who care about the Earth and its creatures. Chetan Chand, a 10th-grade student from NPS who made 1035 observations said, “I enjoyed exploring natural biodiversity and this entire practice aroused my interest in documentation and raised some questions about my surroundings”.

The fourth-highest individual observer (1165) from India in CNC this year, Gagandeep Singh is also associated with NPS. He found fifty different lifeforms in small patches of grass and easily recognized different species of butterflies, dragonflies, and insects on that patch. Another student of Grade 10th, Mayank Joshi, after documenting 578 species learned the crucial relationship between different habitats and life forms. He happily shares the secret behind documenting a large number of life forms. He says around the wetland and waterbody one can get the maximum observation as water is the source of life.

A grade 12th student from NPS, Harshdeep Singh, who has been participating in different public science programs for the last 4 years, says his perspective of seeing the natural world has changed radically. He further added “As part of these global public science programs and other environmental learning spaces such as Wipro Earthian, I have some understanding of the nature around me”.
Another senior student Vansh Mittal who has continually been part of these spaces for the last four years finds being part of the public science programs and using social media apps like iNaturalist helps him to be part of a larger community. Now whenever they as a community see a cluster of insects like milkweed plants, that becomes a point of a long discussion between students. Vansh is happy to be a part of these communities. While working on these projects, nature walks and birdwatching these learners can decode the secrets of the natural world around them.

After the declaration of the results of CNC, teachers shared the outcomes of this observation. Vijay Gahtori, who is associated with NPS and has been coordinating between the school and students, shared that this year the students rarely found any mushrooms or fungi on the field. He also noticed that the dry weather has negatively impacted the availability of particular flora and fauna. When the students compared the data on the iNaturalist website between 2023 and 2024 they found ‘Milky Cone cap’, a common fungus, is not found in any observation this time, although it was reported 24 times in the year 2023. The organizer of this event, Kapil, was surprised when he didn’t see a very important species of wetland, the snail, in this four-day event. He says "When the students did observations in the wetland near Nanak Sagar dam, this time we did not see as many snails as we used to see in the past few years. Still, it’s too early to come to any conclusion. It might possibly be the impact of climate change or the changing land use pattern by rapid urbanization”.

Senior student Vansh Mittal is concerned about the sudden disappearances of several insects which were observed in larger numbers in the last bioblitz around the same location. Vijay Gahtori as a teacher anticipated the positive impact of these programs while saying “In this way, students can contextualize the classroom learning with the outer world”. Mr Gahtori says now students can identify birds, insects, moths, and butterflies with their names and species. Even students can tell you what the best place and time is to find particular living beings in their surroundings. School manager, Chandra Shekhar Atwal proudly feels that through the public science program, the students as a community of learners internalized that Earth is the home of millions of other species too. Through this process, they became sensitive to their surroundings. Fire in the field and the indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemicals make the students worried about the declining biodiversity in the region. Mr. Atwal said that the efforts of the students were made possible through mentors of NPS and the community of educators who helped to realize this through sessions, workshops, internships, literature, and public science programs like the City Nature Challenge.

About Writers:
Amandeep Singh and Divya Pargai are grade 12th students of Nanakmatta Public School. Both of them work in community-led projects and love to write their experiences of learning. Kamlesh Atwal is the co-founder and academic coordinator of Nanakmatta Public School.

Publicado el mayo 21, 2024 06:37 MAÑANA por kapil_chand kapil_chand

Comentarios

What an incredible effort by the Nanakmatta Public School students! This just shows that every contribution matters, and it doesn't matter how small one might thing they are! Congratulations to you all, students, teachers, alumni and community members alike!

Publicado por smriti hace 27 días

Agregar un comentario

Acceder o Crear una cuenta para agregar comentarios.