Commentary from the General Secretary / 1999

Commentary from the General Secretary / 1999

Educational Programs in Limnology

The transfer of knowledge from one generation to another is a critical responsibility of humankind. Such transmission is accomplished by many means – parental, formal or informal instruction at many levels from youth to adult, and among peers. Not only is the constant acquisition of additional knowledge and understanding important to our mental stability but it is critical to our position and well being within our natural environment. Our compatibility within our milieu is a direct function of our understanding of the environmental properties, functions, and limitation boundaries of freshwater ecosystems. That responsibility intensifies as we enter the next century in which the availability of quality fresh water will emerge as a foremost critical resource issue facing humankind.

In order to educate effectively, it is presumed that we understand well the subject at hand. Clearly limnology is now understood as a multidisciplinary science in which biology, chemistry, physics, and geology are integrated by study of inland waters as coupled ecological systems. These studies lead to improved understanding of natural processes within these waters and how human activities affect these properties. That understanding is critical to effective management for most efficient use by humans. Many countries and groups have recognized that changes and improvements in the educational prowess of limnology are needed (e.g., Committee on Inland Aquatic Ecosystems, 1996). That recognition has addressed the problems at many levels, such as communication to the public and to students at many strata from secondary schools through post-doctoral training, in research, in methods, and in management.

The dominant activities of SIL focus on providing a forum and media to communicate enhanced understanding to others, largely our peers. We do those functions very well and are constantly improving. The superb, unusually pertinacious recent Congress in Ireland and the excellent scientific proceedings now being published from these exchanges exemplify our capacities.

We continue to recognize the unevenness of limnological training globally, particularly among countries with evolving infrastructures. The Executive Board and International Committee constantly wrestle with how the great limnological expertise within SIL can be encouraged and used to improve education of limnological properties, biotic relationships, and methods for evaluation and management of inland waters. We recognize that such objectives cannot be mandated but must bubble from within the scientific ranks. SIL can, however, serve in a facilitator role to encourage, cajole, and assist with educational opportunities. SIL has undertaken a number of projects to encourage and improve understanding, particularly among developing countries. Examples include grants for training, large reviews of the Limnology of Developing Countries in a continuing book series, and the past Communications (Mitteilungen) and the new Occasional Publications of SIL that focus on methods for limnological analyses in developing and tropical countries. These efforts are significant but small and we wish to do more.

One such additional effort would be the development of limnological training centers, particularly associated with tropical regions. Although SIL cannot provide funding directly for such centers, SIL can function in provision of guidance in formulating their research and training programs, in development of laboratory and field equipment and manuals, and to assist in raising initial and operational support of such programs and facilities from international funding sources. Development of a training center in each of the South American, Asian, and African continents is an initial objective. We recognize the complexities of such an initiative but have obtained counsel and guidance from many experts and are proceeding gingerly but continuously. Importantly we have received enthusiastic endorsements from the membership of SIL. We reiterate our request to all members for inputs, counsel, and assistance with this responsibility.

Robert G. Wetzel >>>
General Secretary and Treasurer

Committee on Inland Aquatic Ecosystems. 1996. Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology. National Academy of Sciences Press, Washington, DC. 364 pp.