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Brazilian student contributes to environmental education

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-12-04

Lia Caprara has traveled many miles to be in Okinawa. Born and raised in San Paulo, Brazil, the 34 year old graduate student is currently enrolled in the "Teacher Training Program" at Ryukyu University. She received her Masters Degree in "Neuroscience and Behavior" from the University of San Paulo, and has since dedicated much of her education to learning more about the effects of pollution on the environment.

"When I first came here, I wanted to do something with education and pollution. For my Masters Degree I studied the effects of oil on the chemoreception of crabs. It is basically how the oil affects their sense of smell, which crustaceans depend upon for many things, from detecting their food to recognizing their partners during mating season." explained Caprara.

She decided to conduct an experiment here in Okinawa on the effect of red soil on the respiration of the blue damselfish by measuring the movement of the operculum. Caprara conducted her experiment in the lab by placing samples of blue damselfish in five different aquariums, each with a different concentration of red soil. She then recorded their condition every six hours, over a twenty four hour period. "I found that red soil sedimentation increased the operculum movement. The fish became very stressed." she said of her results. The fish were then released back to the ocean.

Sedimentation also reduces light intensity, which affects photosynthesis and can eventually smother coral colonies. Caprara sees the problem as very serious, especially here on Okinawa, where coral reefs are very abundant. "Corals are the forests of the sea. They help support more than 3,000 species of fish in the world, and recently they are also being used for medicinal purposes."

The young scientist would like to put forth her knowledge on environmental pollution to create classroom materials for high school students. "I want to teach basic concepts in ecology using the coral reef ecosystem, showing the beauties and wonders you can find underwater, as well as the effect of human and natural disturbances on it," said Caprara. "I will do it in English, and then have it translated into Portuguese and Japanese to be used either in the classroom or by people already out of school." Caprara sees her project using computers for direct interaction by the students.

Caprara is also now studying the findings of Dr. Teruo Higa Ph.D. on Effective Micro Organisms. The micro organisms can have a variety of uses for keeping a clean and safe environment. Caprara explained, "They are a complex mixture of diverse micro organisms, with many possible applications in agriculture, livestock, water treatment, and even medical fields. I would like to apply this technology to water treatment in Brazil."

Caprara also spends time outside of Okinawa to learn more about the environment. She has attended quite a few international conferences this past year. In October she went to Bali to attend the "International Conference in Kyusei Nature Farming", and earlier this year she was in Hong Kong for the "2nd International Conference in Marine Pollution".

When Caprara is not busy finding ways to improve the global environment, she likes to learn about Okinawan culture. "I love Okinawan culture, their traditional dances and festivals. There are many different people here. The mix in cultures is like Brazil," she said. She also enjoys diving and traveling throughout Asia, and she has given her time to volunteer for different organizations around the island.

After finishing her studies here in Okinawa, Caprara plans on returning to Brazil to start working on her Ph.D. at the University of San Paulo, upon which she plans on working on different clean water projects. She also stated that she would like to come back to Okinawa again for both work and for fun.

For now, Caprara is focused on getting everybody involved in protecting the environment. "I think we all have to be more concerned about the environment. When you start to be concerned about one point, then you can see the correlation's and connections. I would like to see everyone reduce, re-use, and recycle."

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