By Dianna Bell, Earthwatch Multimedia Manager
For almost 50 years, Earthwatch researchers and volunteers have worked around the world to protect and conserve species and ecosystems. Earth Day serves as an important reminder that the work we started all those years ago is far from over.
We’re now in the midst of the Holocene extinction, which refers to the mass extinction of species occurring as a result of human activity. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, scientists estimate that we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate – or the standard rate of extinction – of about 1 to 5 species per year. Dozens of species are disappearing every day.
With these shocking numbers, the Earth Day Network has named this year’s Earth Day theme “Protecting Our Species,” specifically highlighting bees, elephants, giraffes, insects, and whales, among others. And with Earthwatch, you can help to conserve these important species yourself. Join Earthwatch scientists in the mountains, along the coasts, and within the tropical forests of Costa Rica to study wild bees and other pollinators, or in the rolling savanna woodland of South Africa to safeguard giraffes and many other species. Or you can join research teams in southeast Kenya’s Tsavo Conservation Area as you work alongside farmers to prevent human-elephant conflict in the region.
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” ― Rachel Carson, Marine Biologist, Author, and Conservationist
More than three-quarters of the world’s crops depend on pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. But habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change threaten the health and survival of pollinators around the world. Costa Rica is home to over 400 species of native wild bees and about 50 species of hummingbirds. Work with scientists and local community members to protect these species by planting trees to create agroforests, which could not only help pollinator communities but could provide livelihoods for low-income families in the region.
Elephants play an important role as “ecosystem engineers,” meaning they create and maintain critical habitats for other species. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, elephants sometimes eat or damage farmers’ crops, resulting in human-elephant conflict or “HEC.” What’s more, climate change poses additional threats to agriculture production. Join researchers in the Tsavo Conservation Area in southeast Kenya and work with local farmers to implement sustainable agriculture methods. Support farmers’ livelihoods while ensuring that humans and elephants are able to peacefully coexist.
In Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa – a world-class protected area – the wildlife that inhabit this stunning landscape still need our support, in particular, the giraffe population which has seen a decline. Help researchers determine the possible reason for this by monitoring the distribution, density, and demographics of the giraffe population. The data collected will contribute to a long-term and ongoing survey of population trends for large herbivores in the park. This information supports effective management and decision making.
In the forests of Costa Rica, caterpillars are living in a delicate balance with species of wasps and flies, called parasitoids – one that climate change could destroy. For one thing, this research has shown that warmer temperatures speed up caterpillar growth. This means that parasitoids can’t use them as hosts because their life cycles are out of synch, and the parasitoids die off. With fewer parasitoids to keep them in check, caterpillars breed like crazy and decimate their food plants. Help to preserve the complex and wondrous balance of these species while experiencing a variety of plant and animal life.
Golfo Dulce, a narrow inlet on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is a critical habitat for spotted and bottlenose dolphins as well as a breeding ground for humpback whales. The area is still fairly pristine as tourism hasn’t uncovered this gem, but now is the time to take measures to uncover what this ecosystem needs to remain healthy. By understanding the behavior and tracking the abundance of the marine mammals and predators in this region, we can ensure we have the information needed to best protect them when tourism starts in earnest in this beautiful, wild place. Through this research, and with the help of Earthwatch volunteers, researchers will develop conservation plans to conserve the marine biodiversity in this area and create protections for the whales and dolphins that inhabit the gulf.
Not able to join a team? Consider donating and helping Earthwatch fund this critical research!