Our friends at The Climate Coalition want to #ShowTheLove for the people, places and life we want to protect for generations to come by wearing (and sharing) green hearts instead of red this Valentine's Day. For more information, please check out: http://fortheloveof.org.uk/show-the-love-overview/
North American Whooping Crane numbers estimated to be in the 10,000s in the late 1800s but by 1942, it was almost extinct due to over-hunting and nesting habitat destruction. Only 16 birds were left worldwide. In 1970, it was placed on the Federal Endangered Species List as well as the Nebraska Endangered Species List and today totals fewer than 600.
For more information and ways to help: http://rarespecies.nebraska.gov/portfolio/whooping-crane/
January is Nebraska Endangered Species Month here at Go Eclectic World with the focus being placed on threatened native species of our amazing state.
But before we get to the plants and animals, let’s profile one famous native Nebraskan and his fight to be a voice for animals who are on the verge of being gone forever…
Joel Sartore, Local Hero
Joel Sartore is a notable National Geographic photography, speaker, and naturalist who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska and has dedicated his life to raising awareness for endangered animals. He has written several books such as RARE: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species and Nebraska: Under a Big Red Sky. Currently he is the founder of The Photo Ark which is a multi-year documentary that focuses on photographing critically endangered species and habitats to preserve their images for future generations who may not get to see them.
“It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity. When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.”—Joel Sartore
Monarch butterflies, those gloriously beautiful orange and yellow insects, complete one of the most amazing migratory treks of any species. Beginning in spring and ending in the fall, these bugs log nearly 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada. Even more interesting is the fact this migration spans several generations. Only the original Monarch’s “great-grandchildren” will return to Mexico over the course of several months. Scientists still do not understand how the Monarch offspring are able to find their way to a very specific area of forests in Mexico for overwintering, sometimes even the same exact trees, as their ancestors before them.
Even with that secret ingenuity, the Monarch butterfly is in trouble. According to scientists, their population numbers have declined more than 80% in the past two decades. In the mid 1990s, monarch numbers reached over one billion. Last spring, the monarch census found only 56 million. Now, I’m sure you are saying to yourself that 56 million is still a lot of butterflies, but when the numbers began at over one billion, you should find cause for concern; especially with the important role that monarchs play. These insects are considered pollinators. Without pollinators, like butterflies and bees, we would have virtually no food or native plants. The biggest issue plaguing the Monarch is loss of habitat, which is occurring at two different stages of its lifetime. As larvae, the Monarch only eats a very specific plant called milkweed. Milkweed is native to the plains area of the U.S., which is the main stretch of butterfly highway for their journey between Mexico and Canada. Agricultural practices such as monoculture and herbicides have contributed to a near 60% loss of milkweed habitat. Without milkweed, the baby Monarchs will not survive. If suitable milkweed can be found and the larvae develop into full Monarchs, the return to Mexico may be bittersweet as illegal logging and clearing of these very specific forests have depleted its area to a tenth of what it once was.
Yet, helping the migratory Monarch on a small scale is a simple task, one that you can complete in an afternoon. As spring gardening begins, check your local nursery for native milkweed (asclepias) and other nectar flowers such as purple cone. Having a variety will help prolong the availability of nutrients as most bloom at different times of the year. Incorporating both milkweed and nectar flowers into your garden will help the Monarch during several different stages of its life, and will create a living display of nature’s most recognizable and amazing insect in your own backyard!
Instead of choosing those tired old resolutions that rarely make it past February, I encourage you to make a real difference in 2015, and it can be as simple as utilizing a re-usable cup or non-plastic bag. Plastic waste has become one of the biggest problems facing the environment today, especially for marine ecosystems. A 2008 study by Charles Moore on synthetic polymers in the marine environment claimed that the last two decades have seen the deposition rate of plastics in the environment accelerate past the production rate, making plastic the most common pollutant in the ocean. Basically, plastic bottles and grocery bags continue to pile up in the environment while more and more are being created. Compounding the sheer number of plastic waste is its incredibly slow rate of degradation. It can take decades to break down even when subjected to direct sunlight, and will take even longer if the plastic is underneath the water or trapped in marine sediments. Plastic bags, on the other hand, are petroleum based and will never degrade. The use of biodegradable plastics is encouraging as they decompose a bit faster, yet they still pose a risk because they will not completely dissipate. Like other types of plastic, biodegradable plastics will still leave behind small pieces which will accumulate in the environment. Because of this, Moore estimated marine litter contains 60-80% of plastic resin, with some areas reaching the mid ninety percent. Not only is the litter unsightly, it affects marine species from birds to fish. Sea turtles, for example, often confuse a floating plastic bag for a jellyfish, one of its favorite foods. After the bag is ingested, it blocks the digestive system and the sea turtle rarely survives. Thousands of turtles, whales, and other marine mammals lose their lives annually due to pollution. In fact, nearly one million seabirds die each year because of ocean pollution and plastic garbage.
Plastic pollution has gotten so out of hand that is has literally taken over vast expanses of the oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the North Pacific Ocean, is estimated to be the size of Texas and contains nearly four million tons of trash. SeeTurtles.org (a project site of the Oceanic Society) published details of a recent study that indicated that for every 2.2 pounds of plankton in that area, there is approximately 13.2 pounds of plastic. That is a despairing contrast and certainly not healthy for marine life.
But how do we conquer our dependence on plastic bags and bottles? According to the EPA, Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps a year. Yes, that was BILLIONS. That many bags require about twelve million barrels of oil to produce, adding yet another dynamic to this pollution story. While we can’t eradicate every piece of plastic from our lives, we can help lessen our burden of plastic refuse on this planet with two simple changes. First, don’t purchase any drinks that come in a single-serve plastic bottle. This includes water and soda. Now, I know it may be difficult to forgo the convenience of just grabbing one as you are leaving the gas station or grocery store, but it can make a huge impact if everyone just took one less bottle. Instead, use tumbler glasses or even coffee mugs with lids to carry your beverages. These can be re-used multiple times for years.
Second, fabric shopping bags are far more sustainable than any single-use plastic bag and very affordable. I have found several stores that offer reusable bags near the checkout for as low as 99 cents and can fit a large number of groceries with only a few bags. And it may even start to save you money as several states have begun to charge a tax to anyone who still uses plastic bags at the grocery stores. But I encourage you to make these changes before you are forced to do so and save the life of a turtle.
Implementing one or both of these changes (and recycling as often as you can) will dramatically alter the plastic landscape of the ocean for the better. While it will not eliminate all plastic waste, it will take a chunk out of the two biggest culprits. So pledge to make 2015 as plastic-free as possible!
When I was eleven, I was ecstatic to go on my first plane ride because I was headed to the west coast with my family. Although fearful of the plane ride itself, I found solace in knowing I would soon be in the ocean; an ocean I had only seen on television and in books. My favorite week of the year was “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel because it was an entire week’s worth of programming focused on my favorite animal, the shark. But television and books could not have prepared me for the feeling of the ocean breeze on my very own cheek. When I finally reached the beach and the cold water hit my toes, I was hooked. The sounds and smells were nothing like I had imagined. They were so much stronger. In my mind every ocean was warm, but now, ankle deep in the Pacific Ocean, I was brutally confronted with the facts; it was unbelievably chilly. My ocean fantasy continued to conform to reality when I noticed the filth. It was not all clear, blue water as typically portrayed on television or photographed for magazines. It was murky, stinky, and the beach was cluttered with debris, from both the ocean and the land inhabitants. This was real life. My opinion shifted from this glorious notion of the ocean to its truth. It’s not always perfect and blue but it’s amazing just the same. Without that first visit, I’m not sure what direction my life would have gone.
And that’s what makes travel so important to conservation. You can’t appreciate a city, a mountain, or an ocean without first being in its presence. Photos can only do so much. You need to touch the earth, smell the air, see the sights, and live in the culture of a particular area, even if it’s only for a short period of time. It may not always be pretty, but it’s real and it’s raw. Go Eclectic World wants to encourage travel to every end of the earth with the hope that a new-found appreciation will elicit a call to action to save it. It’s easy to re-tell the memories of seeing a stingray swimming gracefully above a coral reef in the open ocean or a mother black bear and her three cubs crossing the mountains in Yellowstone National Park. But if you are like me, you want those same scenarios to be available so that our future generations can experience the awe and turn them into their own memories. However, it won’t happen without your support. It’s as simple as recycling, reusing, and walking as often as possible. Just the smallest adjustments can make a huge impact and might just ensure that the vacation spot you are planning to visit will still be there in the future.