GAIA students learn about native and invasive species in the Czech Republic

GAIA Prague Trip 2014
by Abigail Morrison and Rebecca Loveland

The third annual Global Awareness Investigation Action (GAIA) research trip to the Czech Republic was held October 8–12, 2014 in Prague and the surrounding areas. GAIA high school students from Walworth Barbour American International School (WBAIS) in Israel joined GAIA high school students from Gymnázium Arabská and Gymnázium Botičská in the Czech Republic for a week of learning and research.

Students and advisors from the host schools prepared a rich cultural and educational program that supports GAIA’s guiding principles:

  • Raise awareness
  • Increase investigation
  • Take action in environmental issues

The 2014 GAIA theme is “The Year of the Invasive Species.”  In the course of planned activities and excursions, students investigated both native and invasive plants and animals in the Czech Republic.

Upon arrival in Prague, the WBAIS students were immediately greeted by host students and started a day of hiking through the Bohemian countryside that included a visit to the Koněprusy Caves (Koněpruské jeskyně).  Not a moment was wasted as students learned about topics from cave formations to indigenous plants and animals such as wild boar, deer, and old growth forests in the Czech Republic.

Students also saw first hand some of the damage caused by the introduction of non-native species. An example being the introduction of the black crayfish and  decimation of the local crayfish.

Building an "Insect Hotel"

Building an "Insect Hotel"

During a visit to the Josefov Meadows and ornithological park, the guide explained to students how each individual can have great impact on their local environment and can take small, but important, steps to protect local biodiversity.  One way students learned they could  impact the environment was by building an “insect hotel” to house and invite necessary insects into an area.

Students from Israel marveled at the natural formations in Czech Republic such as the Pokličky Sandstone Domes. Even the Czech students enjoyed taking in the scenery and seeing more of their own county. Carolin, a GAIA student from Botičská, said that the trip was a great opportunity for the Czech students to visit places within their own country that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit on their own. The Kokořín Castle and Fortress Josefov are two such examples where students had an opportunity to visit and experience the rich Czech history.

Dr. Motti Charter from Haifa University in Israel accompanied the group and guided the ornithological research. As the GAIA ornithologist, he helps students understand how to collect, measure, weigh, and explore nests to learn about birds and the surrounding habitat. GAIA bird boxes are  an ongoing project in Israel and the Czech republic for several years with the goal to invite and provide a positive habitat for helpful bird species while helping students learn more about ornithology and the environment. Students were able to measure and collect data from the nests and further continue the project.

In addition to scientific collaboration, the Israeli and Czech students built warm and lasting friendships during their time together. Some had already met on previous trips while others met and formed friendships for the first time. WBAIS students were hosted by Czech student’s families. Through this arrangement, the students from Israel experienced an authentic, cultural immersion. Various students reported going to a street fair, historical sites, cafes, and family homes.  Matthias, a Czech host said, “I always love to meet new people. You just learn more and it’s fun!”

Michael, a third year GAIA student from WBAIS, says this is his favorite year so far. He feels there is more organization, structure and coordination between GAIA student officers.

The common phrase heard as the students finished the trip was, “See you in Israel.”. The Czech students are looking forward to visiting the WBAIS students next spring to learn more about invasive species in the desert environment.