Students will be able to:
- give examples of how to protect watersheds for the benefit of humans, wildlife, and oceans, and
- evaluate lifestyle changes to minimize damaging effects of human activities on ocean health.
Students role-play a round-table discussion about human use of a local watershed.
A watershed is any area of land that drains into a particular body of water. It guides all rain, melted ice and snow, and run-off (from streams, ponds, wetlands, and lakes) into a specific river system. All watersheds run into drainage basins, which, in turn, flow into the ocean. All the world's inhabitants live in watersheds.
Left alone, watersheds exist in natural balance with their environment. Rivers erode the highlands around them in a gradual process that helps maintain a natural, dynamic balance. Human settlements, on the other hand, tend to accelerate erosion while further impacting on watersheds through land clearing, dam building, farming, and industry. For a more detailed discussion of these and other problems pertinent to this role-play, see "Why Should You Make Waves for Oceans?"
An important thing to remember about watersheds is that they're single units, which are connected to other watersheds as they flow downstream. Anything that affects an upstream watershed eventually affects other sites downstream. A town that gets its drinking water directly from a river, for example, is acutely aware of upstream activities affecting its water quality, such as another town that's discharging effluents.
Watershed contamination is a serious problem for humans and wildlife. Aquatic species are often the first to suffer from contaminated water. Slight increases in acidity can destroy the natural balance of water. A single instance of contamination, such as the spillage of industrial waste, can damage an aquatic food web for decades.
In this simulation, students view an imperilled watershed and coastal area as a microcosm for environmental concerns involved in management decisions. They struggle with overlapping and conflicting uses of land and water. This predicament encourages them to pursue ways in which their responsible actions can protect and restore the environmental integrity of watersheds and coasts for the good of people, wildlife, and oceans. When students reach a consensus about local issues, the activity shifts to the impacts of their decisions on the ocean as a whole. The activity ends in contemplation of the idea that the Earth is one vast watershed whose waterways drain into the ocean.
Scenario for students
The Blue River watershed begins in an agricultural heartland. It then flows through a forested area affected by the pulp and paper industry, mining, and hydroelectric development. It is also the ancestral land of the Blue River First Nation.
As it nears the coast, the Blue River becomes an estuary. Several logging companies have timber rights to forested ridges alongside tributaries to the Blue River estuary. A large port city is located by the inland reaches of the estuary. It is the hub of shipping for this part of the country.
Nearer to the coast, the shoreline is dotted with fishing villages and fish-processing plants. Coastal industries include a lucrative mussel fishery plus a commercial fishery that's fallen on tough times in recent years. This decline affects both local fishers and those of a neighbouring country sharing in continental shelf fish stocks. A potential offshore oil development is also planned.
The Blue River Watershed Task Force has invited local residents to present their views and priorities on how the watershed and surrounding coastal areas should be managed to improve ocean quality. The task force intends to launch an action plan to clean up the watershed and coastal areas in 1998, but different stakeholders have opposing views on the best use of these areas.
The task force decides to use a round-table discussion to resolve conflicting interests. This strategy involves bringing stakeholders together and allowing each an equal opportunity to express her or his own priorities. The main idea is to develop a plan supported by all stakeholders present. They should arrive at a consensus on how the watershed and coastal areas can be managed to protect ocean health. They should also help prepare a management strategy addressing all their concerns.
- Explain the activity and the round-table concept. Tell students they'll be responsible for managing land and water use around the Blue River watershed and surrounding coastal areas in a way that protects ocean health as much as possible.
- Divide the class into groups of two or three, with each group representing a stakeholder. Each group develops a case for its particular interest, which it will later present during the round-table discussion. Provide the role cards (PDF) to get students started. If further roles seem appropriate, supply additional cards.
- Allow time for groups to research and develop their cases.
- Invite an individual from each group to sit in a round-table discussion and represent his or her group's point of view. Once all their cases have been put forward, guide the discussion so the round table can consider the pros and cons of each side. Here's an example of the form this discussion could take:
|Forms||• produce food
• have economic value
• provide jobs
|• use herbicides and insecticides, which may damage the environment
• sometimes drain wetlands to create more farm land
• use chemical fertilizers that can damage aquatic ecosystems
|Industries||• promote economic growth
• create jobs
|• produce hazardous waste and sewage
• may contaminate waste
- Point out that shutting down plants and businesses will likely destroy local economies. Abandoning farms will diminish food supplies and employment. Draining wetlands will ruin wildlife habitat. Contaminants will reduce the productivity of salt marshes and local fisheries. Pollution will likely have a negative impact on biodiversity.
- Ask students to re-examine their cases in light of the pros and cons of the numerous land and water uses. Allow them to regroup, brainstorming for what they believe will be the best possible land and water use plan under the circumstances. If they regard any of the other uses as inherently bad, have them consider how those responsible might — however imperfectly — minimize damage to the watershed and coastal area.
- Reconvene the round-table discussion and ask students to present their revised land and water use plans.
- Ask all students to list things they personally could do to reduce the potentially damaging effects of their lifestyles on "downstream" habitats..
- Infuse concerns about overfishing into the role-play by incorporating offshore activities.
- Trace any stream or river system that passes through your community from its source to its point of entry into the ocean. List all the sites you can where water quality may suffer and suggest how to reverse the process.
- Find out about zoning laws and land- and water- use regulations in your area.
- As a follow-up to the role-play, have students write up an "Action Plan."
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