Ecology is a cousin topic to environment. However, while environment suffers from geologic shifts, climate change and excess carbon in the atmosphere, ecology focuses directly on living creatures and their habitats. Include humans as a living creature. Globally, the United Nations estimates that 200 species go extinct every day. In her book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert states that this rate of extinction is far beyond anything since the Cretaceous Extinction when the dinosaurs disappeared.
Kolbert says humans are the cause of the sixth extinction. Daily, millions of acres of habitat and whole seas are destroyed to make way for human activity. We know about oil spills and burning the Amazon rain forest. Does the reader know that humans, along with global warming, carried a frog-killing fungus (chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) to every continent – even the Antarctic! This virus originally existed in one valley in South America.
It is common knowledge that bees are struggling because of many things from viruses to insecticides. The same is true of bats. In the states of New York, Vermont and Indiana, whole colonies are dying. The mariner knows from experience on the farm that a good bat colony keeps the mosquitoes away as well as many insects destructive to crops. One researcher suspects a spelunker who visited caves in the three states is the most likely culprit.
No doubt, the sanctity of other creatures is disregarded as Homo sapiens trashes its way over the surface of the planet.
The news yesterday covered a story about large numbers of turtles and thousands of fish washing up on shore in Peconic Bay on Long Island. Not studied in detail yet, it is suspected that an algae bloom occurred in the bay; excessive amounts of saxitoxin (a byproduct of algae) were found in the dead animals. The cause is presumed to be antiquated sewage systems around the bay. Homes are old in the area and use buried septic tanks instead of modern sewage practices. Sewage, rich in Nitrogen, leached into the bay causing a red bloom of algae. Now, Peconic Bay is off limits to humans but the sewage tanks remain.
The mariner recommends the reader take a slow walk around the house and property followed by an hour’s walk around the neighborhood. Carry a pen and a small notebook. Look for wildlife or evidence of wildlife. List each creature you find. Do not exclude any creature; ants, bees, worms, and “bugs” count, chained dogs count, birds, foxes, squirrels – every creature. Make a note beside each creature telling what is critical to its habitat; does the creature depend on human habitation? Is its habitat under stress or damaged by human activity? Would the creature notice if the human infrastructure weren’t present?
Also, note situations that seem to detract from the creature’s environment – things like streets between feeding grounds, sparse ground cover, broken glass and human rubble that interferes with grazing by birds and other creatures that need to eat on the ground; oil spills and other contaminating chemicals, no open water (not even an old rain puddle), etc.
Without leaving the neighborhood, the walk has sensitized the reader to how every creature has its own habitat. What would improve the relationship between their habitats and the human habitat? What can the reader do to improve the situation? In many cases, because things and space belong to others, nothing can be done – or maybe something.
Wherever the reader lives, there is a conservation/wildlife organization nearby. Participate in projects that improve ecological health and opportunity for all creatures; at least be a subscribing member. As you will see in a later advocacy about species, the names and phone numbers of environment and animal protection organizations are important to have handy.
It has been said many times that ‘nature is pristine.’ That phrase is used only when one is observing nature undisturbed by humans. Undisturbed nature has had eons to integrate and balance the many habitats that co-exist. Nevertheless, humans have now arrived. What can the reader do to integrate with nature?
It may be as simple as a bird feeder in the winter and a birdbath in the summer. Maybe the toad in the garden (a sign of good fortune) would like a cool spot under a broken flower pot. Maybe the dog would like to go somewhere to have a good run – that’s what dogs do best. In that bare spot by the back fence, plant white clover for the bees. Build a small pond engineered to be a genuine habitat for many small creatures. It’s an old saw but plant a tree. The mariner planted milkweed for the Monarchs.
Don’t be deterred by the fact that the reader lives in a condominium or apartment. On the other side of the front door is a whole world of outside.
Ecological advocacy is about sensitivity to life – all life.