Sustainability Code 8. On Rivers, There Is Life Below Us

On Rivers, There Is Life Below Us


The Right Tool

Libraries are great, as is the living world. The difficulty I remember with finding wonders was the wait to find the answers, the routes to research, and marrying the two; wonders that were regularly found in either department. I have had the privilege of the wild on my doorstep all of my life as well as access to the best university and monastic libraries in the country and still have found my learning to be inefficient. When I come into the wild or libraries I experience wonder. Walking or paddling for me is a wander that can take forever. A day in the library is also a wander as I cannot resist endlessly browsing and reading about what I am not supposed to. This is its own pleasure of course, but I have always wished for more efficiency. They say all who wander are not lost. With a phone, none who wander are... Enter the phone of 2023 and we have virtually all the tools we need to make everything more accessible and engrossing.

Get Google and get Triggered

The fact is we are mostly unaware of what value and richness we have in the water and in particular our own waters. In my own experience I went to the Florida Keys to snorkel and to Thailand to scuba. In Thailand I met the trigger Fish. Just a few weeks ago though I found a fish on a West Kerry beach, snapped a photo, ran a search and there he was, the trigger fish. The photo even has a gps mark so I know exactly where I was when it happened. A thing I used frequently to return to view rare plants year after year. My phone is seriously the best tool I have ever had. I urge everyone to get learning how to use theirs and to get triggered in real time.

A Boundless Learning Experience

The freshwater pearl mussel is a thing I thought was everywhere. In the search for skimming stones as a kid we often picked these off the bed of the river. I can remember for years thinking they were escapees from the local restaurant. The question was with me for so long I didn’t even care anymore. What a parallel wonder it is now that with a phone one can pick one up and learn exactly what they are and so much more. I’m not going to relay any of this here but instead point the reader to a start. Please whip out your phone at this point and do some Google- ing.

1. European freshwater pearl mussel.
2. Find the map of their distribution in Ireland.
3. Their decline in Europe?
4. How they reproduce and at what age they begin?
5. At what age they become visible?
6. How they migrate upriver?
7. How they fish for a host by mimicking prey and fish? (There are some unreal
videos of this btw)
8. How long do they live?
9. Their vulnerabilities.
10. Their strengths.
11. Their foodweb
12. Drainage affecting fish migration
13. Where can I go to see them
14. Etc
15. Etc
16. Etc

Google and google photo search are Godsends. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to go picking mussels off the bed of the river but I would urge anyone who finds anything to snap it and let google do its cyclonic work. I bring school children out and about regularly and we go for plants, flowers, insects, minibeast of the riverbed and whatnot in person and in real time. Before we went to the river Laney recently I dropped in a photo of a freshwater mussel to their Chromebooks and they took off. They found the answers to all the above research items. In fact, it was they who informed the research items supplied above. It just goes to show that an article, an item, a photograph, anything can be the start of an exploration into a wonder. The sharing and talking is also most important.

Field Work Fun

The vigorous discussions and exchanges that followed were fantastic. They immediately wanted to go to the river to see them. Part of this lesson however was that we went but did not find a single one. There are some in the Laney but not where we went as they are not very frequent. The follow up questions about draining and fertilising land were all the follow ups that also fed into the research items above. With one photo or item identified, there followed a cyclone of learning. Of seeking, of ownership and concern. The realisation of a full picture, of true understanding.

More Magic

The incredible caddisfly is one other such wonder we found. I knew these things from a book with very poor pictures as a child. When we found this at the Laney near our school, we photographed and researched. It brought the lesson alive and threw up endless avenues of research for the children. Magic! We trawled a few scoops of the river bed for our tray, got to joyous work and found all sorts. We can all do this learn and in turn share and impart. I urge you to go identify something, anything, and take off! I dare you to inspire others. We are all learners and teachers.

Yeah, Noah, yeah

Those who know me know I am a flower nut. I really valued this brief as it started me away in an area that I’ve not really looked at. I have for years held up paddles because I wanted to stop and look at an insect, talk about a flower, or even gather some for my Ark (garden). I have a proud collection of things in my Ark, a place where I have species that I see that I can preserve as part of my re-wilding plan. I’m twelve or so years at this garden and have full control of it. It will be a thing I will remain at for life and let me add that it takes a long time.
Even to get the worms to come back in this reclaimed field where I planted my house has taken ages. I feel like I am forever waiting for trees to grow. In regard to our waters though we cannot bring home most things, the Ark must be the knowledge that we can impart. Conservation in the place where it is is crucial. Freshwater mussels are not unlike trees or worms or anything else that we value above ground. We need to keep them and we need to inform ourselves and our youth about them. Bringing them back is tough work and often, as with our Salmon, next to impossible.

Books That write Themselves

There is no beating the experience in the proverbial field when it comes to learning and it has never been better than it is today. Reference and field books are now pretty redundant. There is still a place for books of course but their potency has waned. Books have been due a comeback and they have delivered. is something I was told about lately. This thing will literally write what you ask it to. I put in “Inspire learning about the Irish Freshwater Mussel” and this is what came out.
Irish freshwater mussels are fascinating creatures that play an essential role in maintaining the health and balance of aquatic ecosystems. Learning about them can open your eyes to the wonders of nature and the interconnectedness of all living organisms. Here are some inspiring facts about Irish freshwater mussels:
  • Biodiversity Guardians: Irish freshwater mussels, also known as freshwater pearl mussels, are an endangered species and are considered one of Ireland's most important biodiversity indicators. Their presence indicates clean and healthy freshwater environments.
  • Longevity: Freshwater mussels are known for their impressive lifespan. Some individuals can live up to 100 years, making them one of the longest-living invertebrates on Earth.
  • Ecosystem Engineers: Mussels are ecosystem engineers, meaning they modify their surroundings in ways that benefit other organisms. They filter large amounts of water, improving water quality by removing pollutants and excess nutrients. Their activities create habitats for various aquatic species, enhancing overall biodiversity.
  • Unique Reproduction: Irish freshwater mussels have a fascinating reproductive strategy. They rely on a fish host to complete their life cycle. Females release thousands of larvae called glochidia into the water, which must attach to a specific fish species’ gill to develop. Once mature, they detach and return to the riverbed, continuing the cycle.
  • Cultural Significance: Irish freshwater mussels hold cultural significance in Irish folklore and history. They were once valued for their iridescent pearls, which were used in jewellery and ornaments. Their presence in rivers also indicated the availability of freshwater pearls, which were highly prized.
  • Conservation Efforts: Due to the decline in their populations, Irish freshwater mussels are protected under national and European legislation. Conservation efforts involve habitat restoration, water quality improvements, and public awareness initiatives to ensure their survival for future generations.
  • Indicator Species: The presence or absence of freshwater mussels serves as an essential indicator of water quality. Monitoring their populations helps scientists and conservationists assess the health of aquatic ecosystems and implement measures to protect and restore them.
  • Threats and Challenges: Freshwater mussels face various threats, including habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. Understanding these challenges raises awareness about the need for sustainable practices and conservation actions to protect these vital species.
  • Research and Scientific Discovery: Studying Irish freshwater mussels provides opportunities for scientific research and discovery. Researchers investigate their biology, ecology, and potential medicinal properties, leading to a better understanding of freshwater ecosystems and potential benefits for human health.
  • Personal Responsibility: Learning about Irish freshwater mussels can inspire a sense of personal responsibility and stewardship towards the environment. By appreciating the intricate balance of nature and the value of each species, we can take actions to protect and conserve these precious resources for future generations.

Exploring the world of Irish freshwater mussels not only broadens our knowledge but also instils a deep appreciation for the natural world and our role in preserving it.