Click to read: Celebrating Optimism on Earth Day

Celebrating Optimism on Earth Day

Durrell graduate Rio Heriniaina shared the stage with Dr Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough at Cambridge’s Earth Optimism event last weekend, when conservationists came together to share stories of hope.

Saturday 22nd April marked this year’s Earth Day – an international day of recognition for the environment. The movement was established to increase awareness of the wonders of the environment and enthuse people to act to help maintain our planet’s incredible biodiversity.

The Smithsonian Earth Optimism Summit is a series of events designed to celebrate conservation successes and highlight the many reasons we should stay optimistic in our fight against biodiversity loss. I was one of the lucky few to get tickets to a sister event to the main summit, held at the David Attenborough building in Cambridge, UK.

“Stories of Hope” was the theme for Earth Optimism talks, with speakers gracing the stage throughout the day to share their positive conservation experiences. Amongst the programme of inspirational speakers was Durrell graduate student Rio Heriniaina, who studied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Endangered Species Recovery in Mauritius last year.

Ben Garrod opened the day by reminding the audience that anyone can be a conservationist by making small changes in their lives. Once he could be sure that everybody in the room was going to draw up plans for a garden bug hotel as soon as they got home, he welcomed the first speaker to the stage - Dr Jane Goodall DBE. Dr Goodall asked us to greet her like chimps before reading heart-warming tales of her time as an activist and how she came to realise that in many cases, local people need to be helped before it becomes possible to switch the focus to saving other species.

Dr Goodall finished her talk by stating that we have a window of time to make change and that everywhere she looks people are doing so because of what she recognises as the “indomitable human spirit”.

Further talks included a discussion by Professor Tim Jackson on how it may be possible for the human population to live well without trashing the planet, and Sebastian Pole on how plants are the source of all life and should be used to inspire people to be more conscious of their actions.

Earth Day is celebrated all over the world – and beyond, as we found out when a video message appeared from the International Space Station. It was in this same session, entitled “Conservation and Communities”, that Rio would pop up from the audience to share his story. Rio was born in Madagascar, where he developed his passion for the environment. Before Rio left Madagascar to study with the Durrell Conservation Academy, he worked in a lemur research team. It came as a shock to him that children would approach him at work to ask, “What are you doing?” followed swiftly by, “Why are you doing that?”

Rio believed strongly that Malagasy children should know all about lemurs and their importance in Madagascar, so he took it upon himself to teach local children about the country’s fauna and get them out into the National Park to encounter the biodiversity first-hand. “It takes time” Rio said, “but education is important in conservation; children need to learn about it so they love it, and then they will want to conserve it.”

Several other talks made links to species that Durrell has worked to save, like the Mauritius kestrel and the Madagascar pochard. Debbie Pain even dedicated her talk on “bringing birds back from the brink” to Carl Jones (Durrell’s Chief Scientist and last year’s winner of the Indianapolis Prize). Optimism was held at the heart of all of the day’s talks, with every speaker describing a vision in line with the work being undertaken by the Durrell Conservation Trust.

After drumming home the importance of collaboration and agreement on a global scale, Sir David Attenborough made sure that the day finished on a positive note. “Am I optimistic?” he asked. “I am optimistic because of children. It’s my impression that over the last 60-70 years, children have become more aware of what’s happening and of the importance of nature. I pray that young people will come to an international agreement and realise that it is in the interests of humanity that we come together.”

Posted 8 June 2017

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