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Earth Day: A Planet in Peril

Today, April 22, is Earth Day. It’s an annual reminder of the importance of environmental conservation and sustainability, encouraging people around the world to come together and act for a healthier planet and a brighter future.

This year’s theme is ‘Planet vs Plastics’ – raising awareness of the ‘60×40’ campaign – to reduce plastic waste and consumption by 60% by 2040.

Earth Day has been observed every year on this day since its inception in 1974. In fact, today, it mobilizes over a billion people every year in a united cause. So, it’s not just an awareness day – but a movement!

But with over half a century of activism behind it, what kind of impact has it had – and how are DSWF answering the call?

Image Credit: Sergey Pesterev, Unsplash.

A little history

The watershed moment came in the aftermath of one of the greatest books ever written on conservation – ‘Silent Spring’, the New York Times bestseller by Rachel Carson. Published in 1962, and still a sought-after, never out-of-print, updated text today – it made the inextricable link between pollution and declines in wildlife and public health.

Key public officials and activists noticed the energy of the mostly student-led antiwar movement and wanted to infuse it with this emerging public consciousness about the world’s fragile and declining climate.

Then, in 1969, came the Santa Barbara oil spill. Even today, in the wake of Deepwater Horizon and the Exxon Valdez disaster, it still ranks as the third largest oil spill in the US – and at the time, took the top spot. Up to 100,000 barrels (4,200,000 US gallons) of crude oil spilled into the channel and onto the beaches of sunny California.

Santa Barbara oil spill 1969. Image Credit: Heal the Bay.

An estimated 3,500 were killed – as well as countless marine mammals including dolphins, seals, and seal lions. The public outrage not only saw new legislation implemented, but also the first ever ‘Earth Day’ that followed in 1970.

Now, groups that fight against oil spills, polluting factories, power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides – and the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife, can unite on Earth Day to share these common values.

Why is climate change important to DSWF?

Unfortunately, human influence on the climate system is clear and growing. It should be undeniably clear that its decline now impacts the lives and welfare of millions of people across the globe. You can find details on our full position on how climate impacts conservation here.

In the UK, we’re seeing increased flooding as we experience wetter and milder winters, whilst species such as loggerhead and leatherback turtles, and even smalltooth sand nurse sharks are washing up on our shores. In turn, migration patterns are shifting – with those used to our colder winters disappearing, and new, more exotic arrivals (from butterflies to baleen whales) becoming more commonplace.

Across the globe, devastating forest fires, droughts, landslides, and floods are becoming ever more frequent. The climate crisis is a very real part of our present, not just a possible future.

Flooding imapcting DSWF projects in Zambia. Image Credit: GRI.

Yet, we’re already seeing the difference increases in biodiversity and how animals themselves can make a difference. In the UK, reintroduced beavers are creating natural flood defenses whilst also providing safe havens for vulnerable wetland species. And further afield, DSWF’s own core species – such as elephants and rhinos, also act as ecosystem engineers on an even larger scale.

DSWF supported projects fighting climate change

As mentioned earlier, this year’s Earth Day theme is ‘Planet vs Plastics’. And the removal of plastics and encouraging the use of more sustainable materials is enveloped in many aspects of DSWF projects across Africa and Asia.

In Guinea, where we work with communities living alongside vital chimpanzee habitat – we fund and support projects that provide sewing training workshops. This enables them to create long-lasting, sustainable bags for a variety of purposes and dramatically reduces the number of plastic bags in wider circulation throughout the region.

Image Credit: Chimpanzee Conservation Centre, Guinea.

Furthermore, we support and fund a Niger River campaign in the same communities and beyond, aiming to remove plastics and other waste products from what is one of the most important rivers in Africa.

To date, over 15,000 people have been engaged and sensitized about the dangers of plastic pollution in the river, and over 350 people have attended localised plastic recycling courses.

Many of our projects and partners incorporate addressing the threats posed by plastic pollution in their mission statements and everyday operations.

Conservation in action: Species saving our world

Devastating floods, wildfires and deforestation are leading to unprecedented and unpredictable changes in our climate. Our projects are working around the clock to protect endangered species and their habitats, which play pivotal roles in mitigating these devastating effects.

Elephants thin out forests of low carbon density trees, enabling more sunlight to reach slower growing, more established trees that are much more efficient at storing carbon. Fruits from higher carbon density trees are also a favoured food for elephants, and their seeds become widely distributed in their dung – increasing their density and impact.

Elephants - Andrew White
Image Credit: GRI

Rhinos play a similar role. And in Asia, their wallowing and trackways through marshlands also provide access to water for other animals – and can even play a role in flood prevention, by shallowing and widening approaches around waterways.

In fact, each of our core species – most of which are keystone species (having a disproportionately large impact on their natural environment) mitigate climate change in some way. From predators like snow leopards and tigers keeping prey populations controlled – which might overgraze or alter habitats negatively otherwise, to insectivores keeping disease and decay at bay – they all play their part.

Yet, as they take the fight to the climate crisis, they also face human-led threats to their existence. And they can’t fight on two fronts.

Andrew White
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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