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Seacology is a dedicated environmental/humanitarian organization with an important global mission. In particular, my job as development director is pretty intense. I need to make bank for a lot of projects and programs for some of the most economically impoverished people in the world. It's hard work, but there is a healthy dose of fun involved. It's a well known fact that the best way to fundraise is to raise fun. Seacology is good at this because we take it seriously.
Part of my job is throwing parties for a living. Well not really, but sometimes it feels that way. This is especially true when I get a chance to collaborate on interesting events with generous, cause-oriented people, which I do several times a year.
Each fall we hold an event in San Rafael, California, called "Marin's Glorious Glass Pumpkin Harvest." One of our creative board members and his significant other conceived this event in 2007. Their aim was to raise funds for Seacology, make money for a small coterie of talented glass-blowing artists, bring exposure to an historic regional facility and develop an annual family event. They hit their target. The result is a gorgeous, two-day public "pumpkin patch" that feels an awful lot like a big block party with a purpose. Held on the lawns of a Victorian mansion known as the Falkirk Cultural Center, this event takes place during the most beautiful time of the year in Northern California. Many thanks to Kimo and Kerry. If you are in the area this October, we invite you to drop by.
2008 marked the inaugural year of Seacology Germany, our first affiliate in Europe. The creation of this chapter of Seacology was spearheaded by board director, Peter Pistor. Peter grew up in West Berlin and his profession led him to the USA, where he settled in Los Angeles. He returns to Berlin each year for business during the summer with his lovely American wife, Zina, and their two very active young sons.
Peter has been on Seacology's board of directors since 2003 and has a real passion for Seacology. He knew it would resonate with the German psyche because of their love for traveling to faraway lands (wanderlust!), natural affection for animals and keen awareness of and interest in the environment. As a nation, they even have a Green Party which is, amazingly, already 28 years old.
One of the benefits of speaking other languages is that you are sometimes given unique opportunities. Because I speak German and am acquainted with the culture, I've been asked to serve on the board of Seacology Germany, a task I relish. The fledgling operation is made up of a handful of dedicated Germans headquartered in Berlin who feel compelled to make a difference in solving environmental challenges worldwide.
Wow. The hype is not hype; Madagascar delivers on its promise of exotic animals, dramatic landscapes, rare botany and friendly people. This island lost in time keeps alive the dream of a faraway land with mystical creatures and magical landscapes.
Seacology's 15 person expedition began with a brief stint in the capital of Antananarivo ("Tana"), and the architecture did not disappoint. A bustling city of nearly two million people, its history is rich with dynasties boasting some of the longest names in the world. To the left is King Andrianampoinmerina's palace which sits on the highest of the capital's 12 hills, standing as a sentinel overlooking the city.
We flew to the extreme south of the island to begin our trek to the project site, a Seacology supported nursery for rare and endangered plants at Ft. Dauphin. Riding for hours over seriously rugged roads, we shared the terrain with a constant chain of Malagasy people traveling on foot -- generally barefoot -- carrying their impossibly heavy wares from market to home and back. The indigenous plant nursery was thriving and we spotted a grove of Madagascar's unusual pitcher plants (right) and a small stand of critically endangered water palms along the way; only four remain in their original habitat.
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.
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.