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#BioBlitz2016 Takeaway: Restoring Nature Restores Benefits for People

Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, a National Geographic Fellow, will be participating in the National Parks BioBlitz in Washington, D.C., this weekend, including accompanying a biodiversity inventory on Theodore Roosevelt Island, a natural memorial to America’s 26th President. Lovejoy directed the World Wildlife Fund-U.S. program from 1973 to 1987 and was responsible for its scientific, Western Hemisphere, and tropical forest orientation. He is generally credited with having brought the tropical forest problem to the fore as a public issue, and is one of the main protagonists for the science and conservation of biological diversity. He was the first person to use the term biological diversity in 1980 and made the first projection of global extinction rates in the Global 2000 Report to the President that same year. We asked him to share some thoughts about this year’s BioBlitz.

Thomas E. Lovejoy Tropical and Conservation Biologis. Courtesy of NG Explorer Programs.
Thomas E. Lovejoy, Tropical and Conservation Biologist. Courtesy of NG Explorer Programs.

Why is this National Parks BioBlitz important?

This BioBlitz is framed within the 100th anniversary  of the National Park Service, I believe nationwide in 100 places. And obviously doing it in national parks within the national capital area is central to the whole exercise.

Doing it on Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River is even more appropriate, given how much that President Roosevelt enjoyed nature, and also what we today call biodiversity. He was such an inquiring naturalist within his own right. [Read more about the “Conservation President” below this post.]

But apart from all that, there is also the really important business of getting people out into nature, and to let them explore and experience the intrinsic fascination of it, and in the process begin to understand that human aspiration is embedded in nature, and we would do well to get more in sync with nature. The BioBlitz is a great way to do it.

Would you give an example of how human aspiration is embedded in nature.

Human aspiration is embedded within natural processes, whether we spend any time recognizing that or not. It’s the ecosystems embedded in nature. Its that two-thirds of the people in an average audience that would not be there without the medical advances that came from obscure organisms that changed how we think about life sciences. It’s in the daily sustenance that we get, the maintenance of our atmospheric composition, which we are busy messing up, and so on.

One of the important things that has to happen, not just during the BioBlitz, but ongoing, is that we need to realize that we really do need nature. The extent to which we ignore that, we will pay a penalty. The extent to which we embrace nature, we will benefit.

I suppose we might say that nature also needs us now, or else it’s going to fail us, right? We seem to have reached a stage where we better start restoring and helping nature do its work.

That’s right, and restoring is a really important word. We can do a lot by restoring ecosystems and letting biodiversity perform its normal functions. We can reduce the greenhouse gas burden in the atmosphere that way. There are always continually other benefits that come from restoring degraded ecosystems, whether it’s wetlands protecting our coasts from storm surge, or riparian vegetation preventing soil erosion and also providing water quality. When you restore nature, you also restore benefits.

What would you say to especially younger generations, living in big cities like Washington, who don’t often go out into nature? What can they do to restore and help nature, other than changing their diet or turning down the thermostat? What can city folk do directly to restore nature?

Almost any city has opportunities for ecosystem restoration. Even planting street trees can make a difference. Not only does it provide shade and lower the temperature, but it also provides stepping stones for different kinds of organisms to move around. Everybody is just a step away from being able to do something to restore nature.

National Parks BioBlitz Fun Fact

President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir at Yosemite. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.
President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir at Yosemite. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Dr. Lovejoy is participating in a BioBlitz activity on Theodore Roosevelt Island, in the Potomac River not very far from the White House. According to the National Park Service, which manages the island, during his Presidency (1901-1909), Roosevelt set aside almost 230 million acres of the United States as a legacy for future generations, including five National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 150 National Forests and 51 Federal Bird Reservations.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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