Since the 1960's, river conditions have drastically deteriorated as industry grew and pumped effluent into the river, sprawling residential areas grew, contributing sewage and waste to the river, and upstream watersheds were deforested, causing river waters to run brown with eroded soil. The natural river banks were destroyed and the river was canalized in deep canals. The river environment changed from green to brown and the fireflies and birds disappeared. In the early 1970s, the community of Minamigaoka embarked on a river rehabilitation campaign.
In the early days of this campaign, special clubs, women's groups, the elderly, and school children participated in collecting garbage and planting vegetation along the river and educating against river pollution. The Kitakyushu City administration, impressed with these community efforts, made a contribution by implementing a sewage system that redirected household waste water away from the river. Twelve hundred firefly larvae were introduced to the river in the early 1980's by the Society for the Study of Fireflies. Twenty of these emerged as adults. News that the fireflies lived again in the Kokumano River spread throughout the community.
The community focused on this opportunity and set in place project activities designed to recreate the natural firefly habitat. A primary element of the project was reconstructing the river bank areas to support firefly habitation. This naturalization of the river banks also provided habitat for numerous other creatures. The naturalization process was extremely difficult because of the depth of the river canal. To overcome this problem, a creative design of alternating natural banks was employed. In addition, special holes were constructed into the canal walls and filled with rocks and materials replicating a natural habitat. With naturalization of the river underway, special facilities were constructed where the community could raise firefly larvae to be released into the river. A year later, in June 1981, three hundred fireflies were documented by the banks of the Kokumano River. The community held cultural events that celebrated the firefly and the firefly soon became the symbol associated with the very successful river rehabilitation project.
The first Firefly Festival was held in June 1981, attracting 10,000 people. This event raised awareness of the river rehabilitation project and attracted donations from companies and organizations. These were used to build a large firefly breeding facility and to continue with other rehabilitation activities, such as pollution monitoring and tree planting. Firefly Festivals are now an annual community event bringing together crowds of between 30,000 to 40,000 people. The revival of the firefly population along the river has been the single most important event that changed people's values and attitudes towards river protection and caused the entire community to participate in a clean river movement. This movement has resulted in the upgrading of the river habitat and the return of song birds and other species. The firefly has become a cultural symbol for environmental conservation and the successful environmental enhancement strategies based on solidarity and cooperation.
Source: "Local Initiatives 1" - ICLEI
Revised July 95 - Contents copyright (c) 1995 ICLEI
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