Tips for speaking about biodiversity loss in the modern world.
Summer is normally conservation’s best season - it’s often when the majority of fieldwork, habitat restoration, and public engagement is done. This year though it feels like conservation and many other non-profits are struggling to adapt. This is because meaningful engagement that leads to action is more difficult to achieve without meeting face=to-face. With that in mind, how can we get people on board with conservation? I have spent most, if not all, of my adult life trying to get people to care about this issue when they might not value it or know very much about it. The answer I’ve come up with is a simple one: respect and listen. The reason why so many conservation efforts fail is due to lack of local involvement. We need to understand the reasons behind people’s behaviour before asking them to do something new.
Furthermore, behaviour changes take time; everyone is at a different point in their life and sometimes the best option is to showcase what you do, why you do it, and the benefits of that action. Online discussions often seem to facilitate debate rather than dialogue. Of course debates have their place, but if we are going to engage people in conservation, we will have a greater impact by finding common values and celebrating successes both big and small. It is important to understand many people are not going out of their way to harm wildlife – they were simply not taught about how their actions negatively affect biodiversity.
As youth, it can sometimes be difficult to see beyond our social media newsfeeds but there is a whole world of different opinions out there and each opinion should be valued because someone has used their personal experiences to come to that conclusion. The fastest way to turn someone off a cause is the feeling of being judged or policed. Statements like, “You’re doing something wrong”, or “You are not doing enough” will never result in something positive. Remember that not everyone will do what you consider to be right so try to think about what you can change.
Finally, just because our lives have been put on hold doesn’t mean we have to cancel on people. We need people to question our decisions and our values. Learning from others and learning to compromise is essential to the future of conservation. It is also important to consider that news outlets are trying to sell stories that have big, reactive headlines. Now more than ever we need people to highlight positive conservation and community engagement. Why not start a small habitat restoration project at your home or with your community, create bird-friendly windows. or advocate for the monarch butterflies’ right-of-way in your municipality? Show people the real things we can all do to help wildlife. Encourage these actions with an emphasis on why individual actions are beneficial to us, our communities, and the planet. Remember, respect goes both ways and positivity breeds positivity.
During my first term of university, a few friends talked me into transferring into the co-op program. I’m going to be honest here: at the time, the main reason why I agreed was so that I would be able to graduate with them five years later. I didn’t fully understand what I was getting into or how it would impact me post-graduation. As I stumbled my way through countless job applications, nerve-wracking interviews, and rewarding work terms, I came to appreciate just how valuable my co-op experience was.
For me, co-op was an opportunity to explore new places, meet exciting people, and test out career paths without the long-term commitment and expectations of a permanent full-time job. Some highlights of mine include:
Of course, each person’s experience will be vastly different; we each have our own goals and preferences, not to mention the external factors that we may have no control over. As cliché as it is, this is what helps us grow and overcome challenges. And speaking of challenges, there certainly were many! If you’re like first-year-me and wish you had some advice, read on for some pointers I picked up along the way.
As with most things, it may be a bit scary in the beginning, but you’ll be glad you did it! Being a co-op student introduces a new perspective on your studies; you’re able to see how you can apply your course teachings to your job, and vice versa. Five years ago, I had no idea the impact that FOMO and an impulse decision would have on my entire undergraduate experience. Graduating with a more holistic resume and a clearer idea of what kind of career I wanted to pursue made stepping out into the real world a lot less daunting. Having established connections certainly didn’t hurt either. I would highly recommend co-op to anyone interested in participating in a work/study program!
by Heather Kerrison
If you’re anything like me, part of the distress that has come along with COVID-19 stems from the rollback in environmental strides that took years to make. Earlier this year, we saw major retailers such as Sobeys banning the use of plastic shopping bags, restaurants banishing plastic straws and coffee shops incentivising the use of personal cups. When Ontario declared a state of emergency earlier this year, many grocery stores banned reusable bags from entering the store and coffee shops stopped allowing customers to use their own mugs. Because single-use items used for personal protection equipment (PPE) are considered “safe”, there has been a massive uptake in the use and of these products and therefore a huge increase in how many are discarded. Of course, frontline workers need to be adequately protected and we all want to slow the spread and do our part. However, it is troubling to think of not only the rollback of “green” habits such as reusable grocery bags and coffee cups, but the combination of that with the uptake in the use of a suite of single use items.
Here are 4 ways you can try to keep your habits “green” during this time:
1. Try Using Reusable Grocery Bags: Some grocery stores have not been allowing reusable personal bags to enter the stores or be used at checkout. In some places the employees are just not able to touch the bags, meaning you could seemingly pack your own groceries and still use them. These measures are understandable as the safety of the workers comes first. Some options include bringing the bags (if able) and packing your groceries yourself. If this creates a stressful situation or slows a line, a great alternative is bringing your cart to your car and bagging them there. Personally, I have been able to use a grocer that allows the bags to come into the store and packing the bags myself.
Free reusable bags, among other great resources, are available through the Ontario Government website. These double sided bags feature some Ontario Species at Risk. Source: https://www.publications.gov.on.ca/species-at-risk-reusable-bags
2. Shop Local: this could not be more important. Not only are small businesses struggling and need your support, but by buying local goods, you can cut out the emissions needed to transport materials. I know that ordering from Amazon is all too convenient when we are stuck inside, but many local retailers are offering free delivery or pickup options. Products like beer or coffee can often be sourced locally and delivered – a double win! You can support a small business that may be struggling to make ends meet and forego the extra carbon emissions.
3. Eliminate Food Waste: If you are anything like me, the last couple months have rendered you a meal planning whiz. Trying to decrease trips to grocery stores means making a meal plan ahead of time and a grocery list from that. When you operate in this way, you usually end up using all of the food you purchased and less goes to waste. Food waste equates to a massive amount of water and resources that have gone to waste, so let’s avoid that as much as possible!
4. Get, or Make, a Washable Mask: wearing masks in public places is going to be a reality for many of us for quite some time. If you are not a frontline worker, try to stay away from single-use PPE and instead opt for a reusable mask that you can wash after each use. Many shops have started making masks but if you have yet to find a seller in your area, try making one yourself!
Source: "Non-medial masks and face coverings: Sew and no-sew instructions". (2020). Government of Canada. Internet: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/sew-no-sew-instructions-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html
It is my deep hope that we can each do our part to keep up with green initiatives that are so important for not only our own well-being, but the well-being of this wonderful planet that we all call home. These are new waters to navigate, but it is imperative that we do our best to maintain environmentally friendly habits. Additionally, in the vast unknown of this unprecedented time, it is nice to feel like you are doing what you can to keep our planet healthy.
by Marlee Pyott
In 2008, humans passed a critical threshold from which we will likely never return. As of 2008, over half of the world’s human population is living in urban areas. Prior to this, over half of the world’s human population was living in rural areas. In Canada, however, this threshold was surpassed almost 70 years ago and as of today, 81% of Canadians live in an urban area. This has had an irreversible impact on our environment, especially on native wildlife populations. Most animals are admitted into wildlife rehabilitation centres as a result of human activity. Thus, as our population increases and our cities expand into natural habitats, more animals are at risk of injury. With animals and humans interacting more and more every year, educating the public on animal welfare has become increasingly important. Working at a wildlife refuge centre has given me the opportunity to work closely with many amazing animals and help them get back into the wild.
A fox kit from a litter of 4; all of which were found abandoned after their mother had died.
by Natasha Barlow
I still don’t know what I’m doing and what I want out of life. However, in the hopes that some of my experiences may resonate with others, I wanted to share a few tidbits of things that have made me a better scientist, and a better person. These are disjointed thoughts, and are in no specific order, but I hope they will be useful to anyone in the environment field (or otherwise) thinking about jobs, schooling, and life in general.
Jobs and School:
by Heather Kerrison
Late May and early June represent an important time of the year for turtles in Ontario as it is the peak of nesting season. This means that they leave the safety of the wetlands, creeks, and rivers they call home in search of appropriate nesting sites. In Southern Ontario, no area of land is further than 1.5 km from a roadway which means that this can be a dangerous time for the turtles and the eggs they plan to lay. The biggest threats to the survival of Ontario turtles are roadways and habitat loss. Reptiles, including turtles, account for a large portion of the wildlife killed on Ontario roads annually. Turtles in particular often lay their eggs on the soft substrate found along roads, making it more likely for them to be struck while crossing. A positive of reduced traffic and physical distancing is that they may have a better chance of crossing safely this season.
Midland painted turtle hatchling (left), and snapping turtle hatchling (right).
Turtles are slow to reach sexual maturity and only have the chance to lay eggs once a year, with those eggs facing ample threat from predation from animals like raccoons and foxes. Losing just one mature adult can significantly impact a population. Ontario has 8 species of turtles; until 2018, the midland painted turtle was the only Ontario turtle species to not yet be listed as a species at risk. When the Committee of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated the species as Special Concern, this made eight Ontario turtle species at risk. This means that all species are at risk if active conservation and protection measure are not put in place immediately.
Concerned citizens and wildlife lovers alike can help make sure that Ontario's turtles safely lay their eggs and make it back to their respective homes. Simply driving with caution during this time of year and paying particular attention to wildlife crossing signs is important. Further, if you see a turtle on a roadway, you can help it cross. It is very important that you always help a turtle across in the direction that they are traveling. They know where they are heading and if you turn them around, they will simply attempt to cross the road the same way again.
Some Important Tips for Helping Turtles:
If you find an injured turtle that has already been struck, refer to this Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre page on how to get it to help. It is important to note that even if a female turtle has been struck and may not survive, the eggs she is carrying can be saved and incubated at a care facility. This ensures the young have a chance to hatch and grow the population of the species. Although the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre is based in Peterborough, they have over thirty turtle response centres and hundreds of volunteers across Ontario who can organize a transfer to their hospital.
Turtles are a precious part of our ecosystems here in Ontario and we can all take steps to help protect them.
by Monica Seidel
While we are all practicing physical distancing, many organizations are offering free professional development opportunities. These certificates and webinars are great tools to constantly update your resume and set of marketable skills even if you are underemployed, unemployed, or looking for something to do in your spare time.
Here are 6 environmentally themed professional development opportunities that you can start today:
1. Become a more confident birder with the Cornell Lab
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a leader in bird conservation, research, and education focused on birds. They offer many citizen science programs such as Project FeederWatch and eBird. The course “eBird Essentials” provides participants with a background in the largest biological citizen-science program in the world, eBird. The course helps users learn how to fully use eBird’s features and share their sightings. By using the coupon code “NewBirder100”, you can enroll for free in their online course “Be a Better Birder 1: Size and Shape”. This course will provide basics to transform your birding skills, featuring 6 lessons, 4 interactives, and 8 quizzes.
2. Learn about Canada’s wetlands with Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited’s mission to conserve wetlands and waterfowl requires collaboration among all who live and work in the boreal. Their "Wetlands 101" online course is being offered for free until June 30, 2020 and will guide participants as they learn the importance of wetlands and how to incorporate these complex ecosystems into infrastructure planning and management. The course is a self-study and focuses on wetland types, characteristics, functions and values, classifying boreal wetlands and explores practical examples.
Ducks Unlimited's "Wetlands 101" course provides participants with an introduction to Canada's wetlands and explore examples. Photo: Ducks Unlimited.
3. Help grow compassionate young leaders with Jane Goodall
The Jane Goodall Institute promotes understanding and protection of great apes and their habitat and inspires action by young people of all ages to help animals, other people and to protect the world we all share. Through their Roots & Shoots program, the Institute offers the Growing Compassionate Young Leaders course, a free professional development course hosted on Coursera. Participants learn how to identify and implement a local service-learning project. This course is useful for those in the education and outreach field, and those looking to host service projects and citizen science projects in their community.
4. Become a National Geographic Certified Educator
The National Geographic Society is a global non-profit organization committed to exploring and protecting our planet. They offer six different free online courses throughout the year which usually run for about 6-8 weeks at a time. These courses are focused on learning more about topics like service learning, or plastic pollution, and developing ways to teach these topics. They also offer a general Educator Certification which is a great addition to any resume for those pursuing a career in teaching, environmental outreach and education, marketing, and communications.
5. Build your portfolio by contributing to the Canadian Geographic’s “Online Classroom”
The Canadian Geographic Society is a magazine published by The Royal Canadian Geographic Society. Their newly launched Online Classroom is providing resources for parents and educators that are teaching from home. Their Classroom is open-source, meaning scientists, teachers, and experts in their fields can submit activities and lesson plans that teachers and educators can use right away with their students learning at home. Contact Michelle Chaput for more information on contributing to the Classroom.
The Canadian Geographic's newly launched Online Classroom provides educators with lesson plans and resources for teaching at home. Photo: Canadian Geographic.
6. Learn how to identify butterflies and organize BioBlitzes
The Credit Valley Conservation is a community-based environmental organization, dedicated to protecting, restoring and managing the natural resources of the Credit River Watershed. Their second annual Butterfly Blitz is a summer-long citizen science program looking to create a watershed-wide inventory of butterflies in the Credit River Watershed. Individuals learn how to identify different butterfly species in their neighbourhoods and backyards and contribute important data to the program. This year’s training will be provided online for free. Learn how to use iNaturalist, how to identify butterflies, and how to organize timed BioBlitz events in your community. Register for free here to attend one, two, or all three webinars.
There are always ways to keep learning and brush up on your hard skills. Online courses can give some structure to your day and can also lead to networking opportunities. Until we can safely explore nature together, these 6 opportunities are great options during this time of physical distancing.
Make sure to share this post with your friends and colleagues who might benefit from these free professional development opportunities: el4biodiversity.com/blog/professional-development-2020
The ELB Annual General Meeting (AGM) looked a little different this year. With the safety of Emerging Leaders for Biodiversity’s (ELB) Board and members being the highest priority, the AGM took place on April 5, 2020 via an online chat platform.
One topic of interest was ELB events and fundraising. A focus of the ELB is to make workshops financially accessible to students and young professionals. Since ticket sales do not cover the costs of the events, ELB actively researches and applies to granting programs. In 2020, ELB has already applied for funding from High Park and Loblaws.
ELB was fortunate to have a booth at the Nature Works! Forum in March 2020. One program that was highlighted at the Forum was “In the Zone”, a partnership between Carolinian Canada, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada, and local municipalities, groups, businesses, and volunteers to create contiguous forest habitat across the Carolinian Zone. WWF-Canada makes the data accessible to encourage people to take individual and immediate action in their backyards.
ELB Board Chair Thomas McAuley-Biasi delivered a poignant message about mental health and the importance of staying physically and mentally healthy during this time. During these uncertain times, it is important to focus on daily goals, develop new expectations for professional development and milestones, and decide what world we would like to build for our future and future generations.
It is exciting to think about where ELB will go in the coming fiscal year – capacity building events, another annual career workshop, and creating strategies to help build the world we want to see are just some of the plans. ELB will continue with its mentorship program, blog, and quarterly newsletter into the next fiscal year. Thank you to Emily D., Jacob, Katherine, and Nadine for their hard work on the ELB Board over the past year with their help in developing new protocols, organizing events, and maintaining the ELB newsletter and blog, respectively. While ELB said goodbye to these Board members, ELB welcomed Elizabeth Latimer, Charlotte Gill, and Jackie Ho to the Board of Directors. Be sure to check ELB’s Facebook page and website to get the latest updates!
by Matt Burnes
For anyone involved in activism, there is always that special moment when you realize an issue is worth fighting for. Whether it be environmental, social or another form, everyone has an inspiration. I am still in high school and have a lot to learn about environmental activism. I am certain that I will stay committed to my cause through the inspiration that I had in the summer of 2016. It was the death of an animal that inspired me to embrace the importance of outdoor experiences in nature and the essential need to protect our environment in any capacity that I could.
The hunt started on a hike with my family on an island in Lake Huron, a common activity for this group of outdoor enthusiasts. As we finished our hike and packed the boat, my father and I spotted a buck. It was on the other side of a long beaver dam that connected to the trail we had just completed. My interest was piqued. My father is an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Given the opportunity, I wanted to hunt with him to experience why he was so attached to this activity. Once everyone had returned to the cottage, my father handed me a pair of binoculars as he set up his bow. We again went out in the boat and travelled across the lake to the hiking trail
The island near Parry Sound where my father and I went hunting together.
After disembarking from the landing boat, my vision was focused on the ground to avoid stepping on leaves or sticks that might scare off any nearby deer. My cautiousness was rewarded, as it soon became clear that the binoculars were not needed to find the buck in question. After walking only about ten meters around a corner with my dad, I raised my head to look for signs that the deer had crossed the beaver dam. This is when I realized that the deer was in fact standing only a few feet in front of me, frozen by an invisible pair of headlights. I could only mirror the deer’s reaction, frozen in fear of scaring the animal away. From behind me, the whistle of my father’s arrow ended the short moment I had alone with the animal. As the deer was pierced directly through the lungs and out the other side, it could only run ten paces before collapsing among a group of birch trees in the forest.
Once we had brought back the carcass of the animal, ready to be sent to the butcher, I had not yet fully understood how much I had gained from my first hunt. A lesson in the importance of seizing opportunities, a new passion for a yet inexperienced activity, and the close bond over the hunt that I had made with my father. After reflecting on the experience, and knowing how the short time I spent on that hunt made such a strong impact on my life, I grew to adopt the views I now have on the environment. It is a method of learning, of experiencing new things, and of beauty. My inspiration from that hunt has always stuck with me, and I am confident that it will continue to do so in the future.
by Monica Seidel
#1. Using Facebook Strategically
I have had a Facebook account since 2010 (yikes), which means over the years, I have “liked” tons of pages and “joined” many groups. All those have value, which I’ve only recently started discovering. When I recently re-started my job search, I created a mental list of “dream” companies that I would like to work for. Once I created that list (your list may not be companies, but dream job titles, job locations, etc.), I began following them on all platforms. I started commenting on some of their posts and messaging them with questions. Why? To get noticed. Even when those companies weren’t posting new job opportunities, I wanted them to see my name, contributing to positive and intelligent discussions, or asking smart questions. That way if and when I applied to a position in the near future to that company, I could potentially be recognized by someone there. Facebook is also the place where many companies post jobs and training opportunities first, so it can make your time online feel productive if you have a specific goal in mind (comment on one post today, find a new local company doing work you love, etc.).
#2. LinkedIn challenge
Throughout university, I tried updating my LinkedIn page on a regular basis, but honestly, it took a backseat to everything else that was going on in my life. Once I had a full-time job, I didn’t think that I needed to update it regularly because I was happily employed (sigh). I’ve smartened up since then. I set a goal for myself to find relevant articles to my field of work and share them with my LinkedIn network every day. I included relevant hashtags because I’ve recently read online that this is an upcoming way to let potential employers find you. While I only have a basic LinkedIn profile (the free one), I do get notifications that someone outside of my network is finding me in searches and viewing my profile. And for now, those are wins for me.
#3. Free Professional Development
Along with making a list of my dream companies, I made a list of key, unique phrases to help me hone in on relevant jobs during my search. I want specific jobs in specific cities, and I don’t want to spend hours looking for them. While I’m looking for another great job in my field, I want to stay on top of upcoming trends and desirable skills, even if I am under- or un-employed. This means I have to find professional development opportunities myself. I’ve found that once you have your list of ideal employers, you can more easily find opportunities than just Googling into the wind. Is National Geographic one of your ideal employers? Try checking out their free online courses in education outreach and learning. I also found the Jane Goodall Institute had a really great free course focusing on effective service learning, which is applicable even if you aren’t a teacher. The important thing with these free courses is they are often only offered once or twice a year, so make sure to either check back on the website frequently, write it in your agenda, or sign up for emails from them to make sure you don’t miss that free enrollment period.
Constantly updating your resume and sets of marketable skills is no one’s responsibility except your own. Whether you are employed, under-employed, or un-employed, there are ways to make sure you’re always learning and showing initiative. Online courses can give some structure to your day even if you’re not working, and online networking is seriously never a bad idea, even if you have a full-time job. You show potential future employers important marketable skills by constantly working on yourself, all while learning about things you are passionate about, a true win-win situation!
Blogs are written by ELB members who want to share their stories about Ontario's biodiversity.