Mekong migrations

Class visit with Meko the Mekong Giant Catfish and Stan the Salmon visiting from California

FISHBIO’s Southeast Asia team has found time away from datasheets and measuring tapes to visit classrooms in Vientiane, where we teach about fish, rivers, and their importance to the people of Laos. As part of our Three Rivers Education Program, our staff designed a curriculum for students in grades 2-6 at three English-language schools in the Lao capital city. A cross-cultural component emphasizes both the local and international importance of fish. Through an international letter exchange, classrooms in Oakdale and Chico, California, have shared their knowledge of salmon, while Lao students have shared what they learned about the Mekong giant catfish. Students from both sides of the globe have been very excited to meet new friends and discover that fish are important the world over!

Our Lao classroom visits have covered a lot of ground. In the first lesson, students learned that the Mekong has the second highest diversity of fish species in the world, with 850 known species identified so far. The second round of classroom visits covered basic river hydrology and how seasonal fluctuations of the Mekong River affect fish habitat. Looking at maps, students were able to understand the concept of watersheds, and identify tributaries and the Mekong Delta. Showing graphs of annual rainfall alongside graphs of the river level helped students understand patterns in seasonal flooding. Students also learned how the annual dynamic changes in the Mekong’s water level affect fish habitat, including deep pool habitats in the dry season and floodplain habitats in the rainy season. We have been very impressed with the student’s enthusiasm for conservation, and their critical thinking skills.

Learning how the size of the river changes

FISHBIO staff also taught about the Mekong giant catfish’s migratory path to highlight how Mekong fishes have adapted to the river’s seasonal changes and varied habitat types, such as using different sections of the river throughout their life cycle. Students filled out worksheets of the Mekong giant catfish life cycle, and labeled a map of the Mekong River showing the migratory pathway of the giant catfish. Finally, students were asked to pick different species of Mekong fishes for group projects. The students have created great informational posters on Jullien’s golden carp (Probarbus jullieni), the giant stingray (Himantura chaophraya), the crocodile fish (Bagarius yarrelli), and more! All of the classes will soon present what they’ve learned in a school assembly for World Fish Migration Day. This event will help our Lao staff mark this international celebration of migratory fish, while our California staff will be hosting the upcoming Salmon Run in Chico to celebrate World Fish Migration Day in the United States.

Students label maps of the Mekong River