• Forever Sabah

Emerging Citizen Scientists Gain Skills To Further Protect Babagon Watershed

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Custodians of a watershed in the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu are learning a new skill that has nothing to do with their daily task of farming and other livelihood activities. Prompted by a community Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) readiness project, villagers from Kolosunan, Babagon Toki and Tampasak have been hard at work training to become citizen scientists.

Their first task was to learn the basics of identifying and recording dragonflies and fish species in their surroundings, as bio-indicators on the health of the watershed that provides water for the Babagon dam – a water source for 57% of residents in Kota Kinabalu and Penampang. To gauge the effectiveness of what they had learned at a watershed workshop, villagers took part in a friendly contest that ran for over two weeks in July to see which village would emerge winner for recording the most number of species. Kolosunan won the contest for both the highest number of dragonflies and fish species.

What began as visits by Forever Sabah coordinators to the three villages since late 2016 soon showed the area around Babagon dam housed many different species of fish and dragonflies; both of which are integral to ensuring a healthy ecosystem. The communities from the three villages then wanted to gain a better understanding on the lifecycle and appearance of dragonflies and damselflies, as well as record the types of fish that inhabit the area; further developing their capacity in civic science.

Dating back to the prehistoric ages, dragonflies require clean, unpolluted water to thrive. Due to their sensitivity to habitat quality, dragonflies will then withdraw from various water contaminants such as excessive nutrients and pesticides from agricultural landscapes, and siltation from soil and bank erosion.

And aside from being a natural food source, fish play an important role as contributors of nutrients to marine ecosystems. With their ability to store and transport a large proportion of ecosystem nutrients in their tissues, the vitamins and minerals provided by fish cause changes in the growth rates of the organisms and help regulate the ecosystem’s food web.

Through hands-on training in the three villages, communities were then able to assess their ability in identifying fish and dragonfly species on their own. Through the contest, the three communities were able to test their knowledge and skills both within each village and against their neighbours. Encouraged by the enthusiasm and skill level shown by villagers, Forever Sabah coordinators plan to publish a zine that states the basic biology and ecology of the dragonflies and fish species in Babagon once most of the species have been recorded.

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