Geo: Geography and Environment

In deep water: Deltas, ponds and multi-media

By Heather Moorhouse, Lancaster University, Lucy Roberts, Aarhus University, and M. Feisal Rahman, Northumbria University.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” A quote attributed to Fred R. Barnard paraphrased from others before him. Can you then imagine what sound and video could do? Yet in the sciences we often overlook the power of creative visual and audio techniques in favour of the traditional tools of data visualisation such as graphs, charts and maps. But by doing so, perhaps we miss a valuable opportunity, with much work acknowledging our failure as scientists to communicate and present our science in digestible forms for culturally diverse audiences. As we digest what climate change means for our global ecosystem and society, there is no doubt that we need to continue improving and adapting our communication to meet the needs of different audiences. In this blog, we detail our research on Tropical Asian Mega-delta ponds and how we used multi-media as a tool to help communicate the global value and importance of these systems.

Tropical Asian Mega-delta ponds occupy huge land areas, produce billions of dollars for the aquaculture industry and in rice exports, and remain a foci for daily delta life where domestic duties are performed. Yet they remain understudied, overlooked by global to local wetland management and oblivious to many beyond their setting. In our article on Tropical Asian Mega-delta ponds in GEO: Geography and Environment we have attempted to bring these important wetlands to prominence and use audio and visual media to immerse and connect the reader to the multiple uses of delta ponds and their many geographies.

In the tropical Mega-deltas of the Red River and Mekong of Vietnam and the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta of India and Bangladesh, ponds differ to their counterparts in the global north where the research and management of ponds is focussed on pond restoration, improving biodiversity and as nature-based solutions to tackle climate change. However, whilst ponds in both hemispheres experience similar pressures from climate variability and anthropogenic activity, these are amplified in delta ponds where human population densities are almost 12 times  the global average, and who have for many years experienced the reality of extreme climate events and rising sea levels.

The value of visualisations and media as a tool to depict climate realities and other environmental challenges has long been recognised. As Nicholson-Cole (2005) details, visual media can connect, engage and inspire different groups of society to the truths and experiences of others, though the process and aim of the scientist must remain transparent. In that regard, we must acknowledge that our multi-media came at the request of the Editors and secondary to our writing of the review. We were, however, excited at the prospect to undertake a more creative approach to our work and hoped that by doing so we would broaden our audience beyond the academic.

There is no doubt that had we had the foresight to use this approach at the start of our research we would have loved to have co-created our multi-media with communities of the deltas. We were inspired by projects such as Voices from below, where women from the Indian Sundarbans have captured their daily reality via photography including many images of their ponds, and our colleagues on the Living Deltas Hub work on mountain voices, oral histories from mountain communities regarding exploitation and changing climate from around the world. However, at the time of writing this article we were in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic so sadly this was not an option.  Luckily, our delta-based colleagues who have lived and worked alongside rural and urban delta communities for years provided nearly all the multi-media content and detailed insights into these systems. For this we are indebted to them.

Video showing the effects of the breach of a tidal embankment at Burigoalini Union, Satkhira district, Bangladesh and flooding of shrimp ponds in early April, 2021. This footage shows the flood damage to the village of Porakatla community ponds and homesteads following the embankment breach. Running time 01:06s. Footage and commentary provided by Vaskar Mondal. Subtitles provided by M. F. Rahman. Videos produced by H. Moorhouse.

Another point to note is that most of the authors on this paper are physical geographers and scientists, so our reflection on this methodology feels out of our depth. Luckily we work in a large international multi-disciplinary Hub and are constantly learning from cross-disciplinary research. For this article we wanted to provide a holistic insight into delta ponds, because in tropical Asian Mega-deltas, the human-environment connection is deep-rooted. Without the audio-visual representations the nuances of these socio-ecological systems could not have been captured adequately, which would then generate an incomplete and fragmented description of delta living. 

Whilst you listen and watch these clips, we invite you to imagine the warmth and humidity of the tropics, the smell of stagnant water or that fresher smell of rain on sodden earth and vegetation. We hope that this work marks the first of many multi-media articles in GEO and other journals, helping to connect us as authors and readers to communities and geographies beyond our own.

About the authors: Heather Moorhouse is a postdoctoral research associate with the GCRF Living Deltas Hub, based at Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University. Heather’s work covers delta environmental change with a focus on wetlands, recognising the need to empower delta voices, communication and knowledge sharing. Lucy Roberts is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Independent Fellow in the Lake Ecology Group at the Department of Ecoscience, Aarhus University, Denmark. Her research focuses on recent, primarily human-driven, ecological and biogeochemical change in aquatic ecosystems. M. Feisal Rahman is a postdoctoral research associate with the GCRF Living Deltas Hub in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University. Trained in Environmental Engineering, he works at the intersection of natural science, social science, and public policy. His research focuses on climate change adaptation, adaptation finance, water quality, and delta resilience.  

Suggested further reading

Moorhouse, H.L., Roberts, L.R., McGowan, S., Panizzo, V.N., Barker, P., Salehin, M., et al (2021) Tropical Asian mega-delta ponds: Important and threatened socio-ecological systems. Geo: Geography and Environment, 8, e103.

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