by Karey Harris
December 15, 2008
Imagine seeing a video of a frog in the Amazon that was believed to be extinct until she was caught on this tape. You see her, abdomen full of eggs, struggle to get to water to lay her eggs.What a find! How exciting for that scientist behind the camera! Then you are told that she was ill, died soon after the video was taken, and no other frogs of her species have been found since. She is currently in a jar in the Smithsonian. Just an instant after you expect to hear a success story, you realize that you have just watched a species go extinct from the planet. That happened to me last week, and this little frog tugged at my heart like no amphibian before.
I had the pleasure of attending the 9th National Conference on Science, Policy, and the Environment held by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) at the Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. on December 8-10. This year’s conference topic was “Biodiversity in a Rapidly Changing World,” during which, among other activities, I watched the frog go extinct.
So why tell the sad story? As species go extinct worldwide, we are losing biodiversity as well. Biodiversity is lengthily defined as “the variability among living organisms from all sources … and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.” Without all the words, a place that has good biodiversity has many different species all living in a small area. A coral reef is probably the most vivid example, with its multitudes of coral, anemones, and fish. An environment with very little biodiversity may be as bleak as a cornfield, all dominated by the same species with a few others thrown in. Biodiversity is often used as a measure of ecosystem health. As biodiversity decreases, the ecosystem’s health and stability decreases as well.
The three-day conference focused on ways to preserve biodiversity worldwide. Topics covered policy and legislation, scientific research gaps, and communication to the public. Speakers who made their case for making changes and saving biodiversity included the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author! Each day after the speakers, various breakout sessions were offered to give each participant an individual experience. I could write pages on what I learned in those discussions, and I have a stack of literature on my desk that I still need to read!
In addition to new things, I heard several familiar themes: less pollution, more preserved land, better land use, teach the public how to be more environmentally responsible, and so on. Some of these are ideas we focus on here at the Bay Program. Since this conference had a global focus, we must not be so far off base in our ideas of how to save our Bay. I hope that one day the world, and the Bay, will resemble the thriving systems they once were, in part because this conference had something good to say.