The Beginnings of the GAIA Project in Prague

by Stuart Fleischer, Ph.D. GAIA Project Director

GAIA Students in Prague

GAIA Students in Prague

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — In early March 2012, Tomáš Pojar, the Czech Ambassador to Israel, was checking his Great Tit (Parus major) bird box on the campus of the Walworth Barbour American International School in Even Yehuda. His box was cramped with seven little chicks and it was clear that the project at WBAIS using birds to reduce insects and rodents was producing positive results. I took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Pojar if there would be any interest in the Czech Republic in collaboration and the sharing of research among students on this topic. Two weeks later, the Ambassador returned from Prague with good news. There were two schools extremely interested in joining GAIA.

The two schools, Gymnazium Botičská and Gymnazium Arabska, both from Prague, joined our research team of students. The date of the first GAIA encounter would occur on November 17, 2012 in Prague. Upon landing at Vaclav Havel Airport, our students were greeted by their host families and immediately whisked away to their warm homes, to be well-fed and rested for an intense four days of collaboration in ornithological research.

The next day, the twenty Czech students met our delegation of seventeen WBAIS students led by our Chief Student Scientist, Mojolaoluwa Obasa, also known as Demi. Each one of our students presented as a gift, a Great Tit box they had built themselves to start the project at each of the schools in Prague. Along with the bird boxes, WBAIS donated to each school a labdisc containing 15 different probes to use during the research collection phase, an iPad 3, an infrared thermometer with laser sighting and a carbon dioxide atmospheric probe. These tools will allow the teams in Prague to accurately and precisely document their research.

One of the GAIA Project Directors and forPEACE Director, Mrs. Margret Ellwanger, led the way in demonstrating the labdisc environmental probe. She was able to show how this portable environmental recording system works in an early morning walk across Prague, recording such data as relative humidity, dew-point, and the amount of sunlight. When she caught a bus for part of her journey, her increased speed was tracked on the computer of every student in the project since the labdisc probe kit also contains a built-in GPS, allowing the data to be matched with global location as well.

In addition to discussing research, the GAIA team was also fortunate to have Dr. Motti Charter from Haifa University and the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI) in Israel accompanying the group. He is our GAIA scientist and helped create the academic rigor associated with our research. In a show of collaboration, SPNI extended their Israel Parus major GIS/GPS online nesting project by adding in the data from the Czech Republic. This was the first time data would be collected outside of Israel on the same bird study and with GAIA leading the way!

The trip was not just about research. Building relationships, trust and confidence between the three schools was equally as important to this project. Both Czech schools set up a joint travel itinerary where all of the schools toured and socialized together. On the last day, Tuesday, November 20, the students hiked to a beautiful nature reserve on the edge of the city and then had a final dinner together. We checked our bags and then said our goodbyes at the Arabska School. Our plan was to take the local tram to the airport. However, the students had become such good friends, that saying goodbye was impossible so all of the Prague students came with us to the airport and stayed several hours with us until boarding time.

On March 6, 2013, the students and teachers from Prague will arrive in Israel for the second leg of our joint project. So stay tuned! Special thanks to our GAIA Project Directors, Mr. Paul Van Rijn and Mrs. Margret Ellwanger, who both helped promote a spirit of collaboration that exceeded anybody’s wildest dreams. Of course this would not have happened without the help of an amateur bird watcher, The Honorable Ambassador Tomáš Pojar of the Czech Republic.