Ntaruka power station
I grew up in the African country of Rwanda. I lived in a village close to a wetland rich in rivers and streams. I remember swimming and playing with friends in those rivers.
I tried to catch dragonflies as they flew by. We called them: “Flying Flowers of the River.” Over time, I began to see fewer of them—and I wanted to know why!
Rwanda is often called the “land of a thousand hills.” In the shadow of an extinct volcano sit two lakes, Burera and Ruhondo. Also in this valley is Rugezi Marsh. This wetland covers a wide area. It controls, holds, and filters the water that flows into the lakes. I do a lot of my work here.
More than 40 species of birds rely on the marsh, but people do, too. It is a source of both water and power. Water seeps through the marsh and feeds Lake Burera, which in turn feeds the hydroelectric Ntaruka power station.
In Rwanda, the dwarf percher dragonfly can only be found in Rugezi Marsh.
Facing a Crisis
Years ago, my country suffered an energy crisis. Power produced by the power station dropped. Water levels in Lake Burera dropped, too. We had not taken care of our marshland. There was too much human activity and too little rainfall to replenish this ecosystem.
Much of Rwanda’s dense population depends on agriculture. This puts a lot of pressure on its wetlands.
In the last two decades, we’ve tried to restore the Rugezi marshland. We’ve stopped certain drainage and farming activities. We’ve tried to block most fishing. Some efforts are working.
And believe it or not, the “Flying Flowers” of my childhood might be part of the solution!
A violet dropwing dragonfly rests on a branch.
Signs of Health
It turns out, dragonflies are good indicators of the health of a wetland. Dragonflies spend most of their life cycle in the water. For them to thrive, the water must be clean. They also need healthy plants nearby. This helps them hide from predators.
So, the presence of dragonflies at Rugezi is a sign of good health. That’s why I created a monitoring system, using dragonflies, to help us identify areas that need protecting.
As the marsh continues to recover, I am confident we will see more and more “flying flowers” on the river!