I have never seen so many insects in my life. Tiny black flies, quarter-sized mosquitoes and enormous horseflies competed to distract Tatiana Indanova as she crouched at the edge of a spring-fed creek in the 90-degree afternoon heat, using one hand to collect aquatic insect larvae, or benthos, while swatting the biting insects with her free hand.
Tatiana is a 21 year old college student and member of the Even tribe from the remote, indigenous town of Anavgai, where she is universally known as “Tanyushka.” Many college students Tanya’s age would look forward to spending their summers in dance clubs or at a lakeshore resort or pretty much anywhere but a mosquito-infested wilderness crawling with bears. But for the third consecutive summer Tanya is using her free months to mount one- and two-week expeditions to remote waterways in Bistrinsky Natural Park on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, where she collects samples of aquatic insect life that she later analyzes at her university’s laboratory to detect changes in water quality. Tanya’s project is supported by a grant from the Lach Ethno-Ecological Information Center, which conducts an annual minigrants competition with Pacific Environment aid. I was fortunate enough to accompany Tanya on the first of this year’s expeditions, which had us visit a reindeer herders’ camp, cross high mountain passes, camp at a riverside fishing village, swim in natural hot springs, and twice get chased by bears. (more…)