Two summers ago I was hired by the Robert Bateman Center as a Species at Risk Outreach facilitator. As part of this job my partner and I drove across BC together and worked long hours in unforgiving outdoor conditions so we could inform the public about species that are endangered in BC, the activities that are threatening these species, and the ways in which we can help. When I was learning about the major threats to endangered species (habitat loss, over-hunting/exploitation, invasive species, urban development, water loss...) I felt depressed and hopeless. One thing that surprised me, however, was the reaction of the public when they heard about these things. Many people didn't know about the severity of the situation, and as soon as they learned, the first question they asked was "what can we do to help them?". And that was an important realization for me, people do care and want to help, they just need to be given the chance. I am always looking for new initiatives, new platforms for change, and new inventions, ideas, or changes in social structures that could allow us to act. Now is the time to initiate change so we can start to heal the systems we have mindlessly exploited for so long and start to work with them in a sustainable manner.
The most frequent question I am asked when I do environmental outreach is "what can I do to help?". I love this question because it tells me that people do want to take action and work towards solving environmental problems. The only problem with that question, however, is the somewhat limited responses I can give. I don't have all the solutions, as much as I wish I do, but I am happy to share what knowledge I do have.
Gardening is a great way to be a local environmental steward. Planting native trees, vegetables, bushes, and other plants can provide many benefits for both yourself, and for native animals. Native plants provide food and shelter for native insects. These insects will be adapted for pollinating your plants, and will therefore aid in providing you with food such as fruits and nuts- its a win-win situation. Even if you don't have a garden, doing something as simple as cutting your grass less often can help, because it gives small flowers in your lawn a chance to grow and support insects. These insects then provide food for insect-eating birds, which will come to visit your yard more frequently. This is great for birders and those who enjoy watching wildlife. One could even install a bird bath or bird feeder and set up a camera nearby to watch them without scaring them off.
There are many designs for beehives, and the design depends on the purpose. Relatively simple ones can be made by tying a few hollow sticks together and securing them to a tree, but this only provides a safe resting place for bees to escape rain or strong winds. One can find videos on how to build a DYI beehive on youtube and pinterest, but options exist for purchasing a beehive in gardening stores, and online as well. Keeping bees has many benefits. If you have a garden, the bees will pollinate your flowering plants, such as fruit trees, vegetable plants, and berry bushes to give you food. If you like honey, you can buy honeybees and keep them in your hive to yield fresh honey. Honey can be used as a sugar substitute in many recipes, and has many health benefits such as its use as a topical antibiotic on wounds and acne, and its use for sore throats, colds, and other common ailments.
Walking and Hiking:
Walking along a beach or hiking a trail can be a relaxing activity to enjoy. The next time you go, bring a reusable bag with you (such as a fabric shopping bag), and pick up garbage on the path as you go along. This keeps natural places free of garbage that animals might mistake as food and eat, or might get caught in. I always bring a backpack and a pocketknife with me when I walk on the beach in case I need to cut free fishing line or nets and pick up plastic garbage.
Telling a story through photography is a great way to get a message across. Your photography could be beautiful and easy to look at or hard to stomach- either way, make sure it captures the story you want to tell and post your picture with a short message describing what your photo is about. I think the best photos are the ones that make us feel a strong emotion and make us stop to reflect on it. Photography is also a great way to motivate oneself to go out and try new things in order to capture new phenomenons.
Again these are only a few of the things you can do to be a naturalist at home, but even these small things help push a greater change.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:
Yes the three R's! The most important thing we can do as consumers is to reduce the amount of material we use or buy in the first place. For example, opt for getting forms and receipts emailed to yourself instead of requesting hard copies- this reduces the amount of paper we use. You can also take shorter showers to reduce water use, and turn lights off when you are not in the same room. Reducing materials could also include bringing a fabric shopping bag to a grocery store so as to reduce the amount of plastic bags that need to be produced to only be thrown out later. The next important thing to do is reuse things. This could be as easy as reusing plastic or glass food containers to store leftovers (simply wash and reuse), or participating in a book swap with friends. I like to donate clothes to the thrift store and buy other used clothes (it gives me a change in variety while also reusing clothes that have already been produced and would otherwise be thrown out). Lastly, it is important to recycle. Some communities have recycling programs in place where you can recycle plastics, paper, cans, glass, and other materials. Some places even have bottle recycling where you can exchange your used beverage containers for money. Doing any of these Rs will help reduce our individual impact on the planet.
The power to change is in our hearts, heads, and hands. Combine all three to let it free.
Shelby Kutyn grew up on Vancouver Island, where she developed a strong respect and appreciation for the dynamic and raw natural beauty of the west coast. She is currently studying marine biology at the University of Victoria while pursuing her passion for painting on the side to combine her creativity and love for science into her everyday life.