Recently in Extinction Category
Duane, our executive director, and I will be taking a group of donors on a Seacology expedition to Madagascar in a couple of weeks. We're going to check in on three of our conservation projects: two in the central highlands and one in the far south. We're only there for one week, but it will be a week of wild travel from the High Plateau to the East to the Southern Dry Forest (see map at right). We'll visit two preserves, an orchid mountain and several villages that are safeguarding the Madagascar flying fox.
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, and I imagine it seems like a small continent when you're on it. To put it in perspective, if you've ever been to England, it doesn't really seem like an island when you visit. It feels like another charming European country, and the distances between its cities are long. Well, England is 95,000 square miles in total compared to Madagascar's 227,000 square miles, or roughly two and a half times the size of England.
In pondering my path to Seacology, I thought about my first venture to a tropical island. It was a month spent on St. Croix in the Caribbean in 1977. I was working for an entertainment company training exotic animals for the movie The Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Burt Lancaster (a living legend in one of his last movies) and Michael York (a fine actor and really nice guy). Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, the sci-fi monster movie was filmed on a spectacular swath of the island privately owned by and leased from the Rockefeller family.
To bring in tigers, lions, bears, and various other exotic animals to the island was an enormous undertaking. We set up a compound in the lush forest about a quarter mile from the beach, where the weather made everyone happy. Since the property was guarded and very secluded, we frequently took the animals for long beach walks ending in a riotous swim in the bath water sea. Paradise, right?
Habits are so hard to change. Take buying a Christmas tree for example; something with which I have personally struggled this year. Culturally, concern for the environment has prompted many of us to take a penetrating look at how our myriad habits can be destructive. For me, acquiring a Christmas tree is one of those activities that merits scrutiny. As a child growing up in Michigan, trees were cheap and plentiful and snow was endless. I could not possibly have imagined that both would become threatened in my lifetime. It's yet another lesson on how a culture can go from abundance to scarcity in a few generations, if it's not paying attention. Global warming and overpopulation do not make my favorite yuletide cocktail, but these world problems are not going away any time soon, and certainly not without our best efforts focused on them.
When I tell people I'm a fundraiser by profession, I get a lot of interesting looks and comments. Mostly people's eyes glaze over thinking I'm going to either ask them for money on the spot or give them a speech about my organization. Then they remark on how they would personally hate my job, saying it's a career they could never handle.
I understand. Really, I do. It's a very personal situation, asking someone for money. And truth be told, it's not easy because you have to deal with rejection. But let me explain a little of my personal motivation for asking others to dig deep.
In my youth, which was only partially wasted, I worked with exotic animals in the entertainment industry. I became absorbed with their protection from a personal, professional and philosophical standpoint and passionately learned as much as I could about a wide swath of the animal kingdom. I've been involved in species and habitat protection since the 1970's and have an unapologetic soft spot for any creature with fur, fins or feathers.
I ran across this tidbit while cleaning out my inbox; corals have been added to the IUCN Red List for the first time. The coral pictured in this news item from National Geographic is the Floreana coral - one of ten corals found near the Galapagos Islands that have been added to the list of threatened species. A startling fact also mentioned in the above item is that coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Ocean are vanishing faster than rain forests.
I was lucky enough to visit the Galapagos when I was 10, the summer between 5th and 6th grade - too young to fully appreciate where I was, but old enough to still think it was pretty cool. My aunt, my mother's youngest sister, lived on the Galapagos for 13 years and worked as a herpetologist for the Charles Darwin Research Center. Her love was, and is, tortoises - the giant tortoises of the Galapagos being the subject of her Ph.D. thesis. So not only did I get to visit these incredible islands, including a week long boat tour, I had a member of my family as an expert guide.
When the Seacology staff decided to venture into the world of blogging, we each reflected upon what our specialties would be... As a generalist and news junkie who loves to scan headlines, I set up some Google News alerts with keywords such as "coral reef," "island environment," "island conservation" etc. I now receive an email each day with various headlines and links to news websites and blogs containing these terms.
I am hooked! There is the odd, random story that has nothing to do with Seacological matters, but I have followed several fascinating stories in the past few weeks. Here are a few...
Today, islands are home to the greatest number of endangered species on the planet. More, in fact, than all of the great continents combined. As a matter of fact, in the past 500 years, 62 percent of all mammal and 88 percent of all bird extinctions have been island species. Further, The National Academy of Sciences published the results of an independent study of extinction hotspots around the world in 2006, and every one of the top ten sites is on an island.
Due to the self-contained nature of island environments, their ecosystems are so vulnerable to damage caused by introduced species, inappropriate development, pollution and global warming. Island coral reefs, mangroves and rainforests, which hold an astounding array of marine and terrestrial life, are among the world's most threatened ecosystems. Yet because individual islands are often small and remote, little philanthropic and non-profit resources have been devoted to preserving island biodiversity.
To combat this global crisis, Seacology was formed as an international nonprofit organization with staff in 1999. Since then, we have launched an incredible 160 island-based projects, saving 1,780,486 acres of marine ecosystems and 101,446 acres of incredibly precious terrestrial habitat on 90 islands in 41 countries worldwide. Seacology's mission is to preserve island habitats along with island cultures around the world. With this goal, we endeavor to reverse the trend of island wildlife, plant life, and marine life extinctions globally, fostering biodiversity worldwide while supporting historic island cultures.