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Award-winning films show dependence of big on little

The International Wildlife Film Festival continues its popular series with two films this Friday, March 21st at the Ukiah Civic Center at 7 pm that highlight how enormous bird migrations, giant snakes in Brazil and vast mangrove swamps in South Asia are all dependent on small but crucial forms of life that sustain them.

"Water Worlds" (60 min.) won Best Ecosystem Film at the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. Naturalist Chris Packham invites us on an epic journey, from the mountain streams of Iceland to the depths of the Indian Ocean, from the wetlands of the Brazilian Pantanal to the coastal swamps of Bangladesh. On the way, he reveals how our most important ecosystems overcome the daily challenge of living in a medium that is constantly on the move.

Packham reveals how the Pantanal wetland in Brazil, a land of giants (the world's biggest snake, water lily, rodent, otter—you name it, they all live here), actually couldn't work without the humble apple snail. The film then takes us to the Sunderbans—a vast mangrove swamp at the mouth of the Ganges. After the Pantanal, it seems amazing that anything at all can live in what appears to be a sticky, sulphurous ooze. In fact, there is so much life here that it is home to a quarter of the world's tiger population. Once again, it's all down to a group of unsung heroes—the crabs on the beach.

We then head out to sea, to the coral reefs of the Maldives. Here Packham investigates the puzzle of where reefs get their food. After all, their waters are crystal clear, so where are the nutrients? The answer comes in the very unlikely form of one of the weirdest animals on the planet.

Also playing: "The Crabs, The Birds, The Bay" (19 min.). Every spring nearly one million migrant shorebirds stop to feed on horseshoe crab eggs along the beaches of Delaware Bay, having just completed an incredible nonstop flight from their wintering grounds in South America. The birds stop to refuel for the next marathon leap, to nesting grounds on the high Arctic tundra 3,000 miles away. The phenomenon is the second largest gathering of shorebirds in North America but is by far the most spectacular because of its concentration. This film provides an intimate yet bold look at this annual phenomenon.

The films will show at the Ukiah Civic Center at 300 Seminary Avenue with live music by guitarists and folk singers Steve Hahm and Sid Bishop starting at 6:20 pm and the films beginning at 7. Tickets are available at the Mendocino Book Company and at the door for a suggested donation of $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Proceeds from the film festival are an important funding source for the Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Project (RVOEP), a special program of the Ukiah Unified School District that provides outdoor environmental education programs to over 2,000 students a year. For a full program of the film series and more information about the RVOEP visit its website, or call 472-5258.

— Roberta Werdinger

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