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While scientists have only identified approximately 1.5 million species so far, it is estimated that we share our planet with at least 5 million species (although the number may be as high as 1 trillion, if you add in bacteria and fungi). Seventy-five percent of those species are animals, with insects and their cousins making up almost 1.2 million of the recorded species (which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone living in Florida).
While we don’t know the exact number of species on the planet today, we DO know that we are losing species at an alarming rate! Why is this important?? Biodiversity (or the diversity of life on the planet (ie. number of species present)) is important for several reasons. Larger levels of biodiversity in our food supply protect crops from being damaged by bacterial or fungal infections. Many of our medicines have been derived from studying plants and animals and using natural compounds (like venom) to develop treatments for cancer and other diseases. Biodiversity is also important for maintaining healthy ecosystems as all animals fill a role (or niche) in their ecosystem. Removing a species from an ecosystem upsets the entire balance. Biodiversity also plays a role in the aesthetics (or beauty) of our planet. Our planet is filled with incredible, beautiful and amazing creatures!!
According to the World Wildlife Fund, it is estimated that we are currently losing species at a rate of 0.01 and 0.1% every year, which is 1000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. That means, if we have 2 million species on the planet, we are losing between 200 and 2000 species every year. Some of the species on the brink of extinction RIGHT NOW are the Bornean orangutan, the Sumatran rhino, the Amur leopard, the pangolin and the red wolf (originally native to Florida and other parts of the Southeast US but now found only in North Carolina).
What does this mean for you??
While it may not seem like it, there are TONS of things we can do to help protect wild animals, even the ones that don’t live in Florida!
1. Pick up trash!
If you remember from October and November’s pledges, plastics can be very dangerous for wild animals. If they eat plastic, it can make them sick or can even kill them. Picking up trash (as long as it is safe for you to do it and you can wash your hands immediately after) is a great way to help protect animals!!
2. Avoid buying things with Palm Oil in them. Palm oil is something found in snack foods and beauty products and is responsible for the destruction of critical habitats where orangutans, elephants and rhinos live. EVERY HOUR, 300 football fields of forest in Indonesia are destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations and orangutans have lost 80% of their habitat in the past 20 years. By avoiding products with palm oil, we can help protect those species. For more information, go here: https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/8-things-know-about-palm-oil
When you talk to your mom and dad about palm oil, tell them about this cool app that can help you find products containing sustainable palm oil: http://www.cmzoo.org/index.php/conservation-matters/palm-oil-crisis/
3. Clean up fishing line! If you’ve ever been fishing with mom or dad, you know how easy it is to lose fishing line when your line breaks. However, that line could get wrapped around a turtle’s flipper, a pelican’s wing or a dolphin’s tail. It is super important that you find your broken line and retrieve as much of it as possible. You can also protect animals by finding fishing line discarded by other fishermen and throwing it away. Most fishing piers have a special PVC tube for collecting used fishing line or you can just take it home and throw it away.
4. Use only earth-friendly chemicals in your yard to protect our pollinators! Many of the chemicals we use in our gardens and flowerbeds contain things called neonicotinoids (like imidacloprid), glyphosates (like Round-Up) and organophosphates (like malathion). These big words spell trouble for our pollinating insects and can even make us sick! Bees cross-pollinate ~30% of our crops and are responsible for making sure we have foods like apples, oranges, blueberries, cucumbers, cantaloupes, carrots, avocados and almonds to eat!! To ensure we continue to have these foods, we must help protect bees and one of the easiest ways to do that is to eliminate pesticides that will make them sick or kill them. Instead of using a harmful chemical on your garden or flowers, try one of these: https://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/organic-pesticides/ or check this site out for other ways to help our pollinators: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/150524-bees-pollinators-animals-science-gardens-plants/
5. If you’ve been following along each month and participating in the monthly pledges, you are well on your way to being an amazing steward of our beautiful planet. If you haven’t started yet, there’s still time!! You can work on more than one challenge per month. But next month is your LAST chance to participate in the pledges for this school year so if you haven’t started yet, get to work. As always, pick one thing to start with. When that feels comfortable, pick something new to try. Doing small things every day will make a big impact over time! Go Green!!