Monday evening I saw another film from the Environmental Film Festival, a screening of RiverWebs at the Japan Information and Culture Center. On its surface, RiverWebs is a touching tribute to Japanese river ecologist Shigeru Nakano, who died in 2000 in a boating accident off of Baja at the age of 37. We learn about how his childhood fascination with fish developed into a lifelong effort to learn how those fish interact with their environment and influence the other creatures in it.
Nakano started off in his research by literally immersing himself in the fish’s environment, spending hours submerged in sometimes freezing cold streams documenting the activities of individual fish. Later, he turned to experimental biology and began manipulating that environment to see, for example, what would happen if the stream environment were cut off from the forest. He did this by sectioning off a kilometer-length of stream beneath a vast greenhouse built in the forest.
What struck me, though, was that while Nakano was a gifted scientist who accomplished much in his brief life, he really was just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists worldwide who are steadily learning more about our world. They may not be Einsteins, and yet they and their work are important. Nakano’s significance, however, is in how he managed to inspire other river ecologists to not only continue his work, which they have done, but also use his life to teach others about river ecology. Because, like fish in a stream, hidden beneath the surface of this movie is a wonderful lesson about stream and forest ecology.
The moviemakers are editing the movie into a shorter version for classroom use, where is should certainly thrive. And maybe Nakano will inspire some of those kids to follow in his footsteps.