ELEVENTH HOUR: A tapestry of species for biodiversity protection

It’s been more than a century of habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species spread, overharvesting, climate change, and excessive population growth. Undeniably, human activities have really pushed millions of species to the brink of disappearing—the current extinction crisis is clearly of our own making.

Extinction is one of the most serious, irreversible, and problematic issues the planet is facing today. According to conservation biologist Michael Reed, “The rate at which extinction would naturally occur is about one to five species per year. We’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times that background rate, which is scary.” With this information, there is absolutely no doubt that humankind has pushed nature past that threshold of tolerance to the point where an unprecedented decline in biodiversity is observed.

Protecting planetary biodiversity is incredibly important for a lot of reasons. For one, it is the very fuel that sustains ecosystems which, in turn, sustain us. Biodiversity provides us with food, shelter, clean air, and clean water that we humans need to survive.

A healthy and biodiverse environment also makes beneficial phenomena possible such as soil formation, pollination, seed dispersal, climate regulation, water purification, and even nutrient cycling. Moreover, according to UNICEF’s Office of Global Insight and Policy, biodiversity is incredibly essential in maximizing the resilience of communities as well as reducing their vulnerability in the face of shocks such as climate change and natural disasters.

Biodiversity loss and climate change must be addressed urgently and ambitiously. However, neither will be resolved unless they are tackled together. This requires logical policy changes that aim to introduce impactful and transformative solutions, and withNature2020 intends to pursue just that.

The withNature2020 project was conceived by British artist Emma K. Thomas as a response to the extinction crisis. It was developed in collaboration with a global network of volunteers—both individuals and established organizations.

According to Thomas, “Humans now dominate the planet to such an extent that we are driving other species to extinction at hundreds of times the naturally occurring rate, inadvertently putting our own survival as a species in peril.”

The initial plan on the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22, 2020 was to have people stand in formation while wearing colored clothing to form giant images of endangered plant and animal species. However, due to the ongoing worldwide pandemic, the event was postponed to May 22, 2021, a whole year after the initial date.

It turned out differently, too. Instead of standing close together in groups to create the images, people laid down items of colored clothing in the place where they would have stood. According to Thomas, “A sense of absence will pervade the work, referring both to the loss of species and to COVID-19.”

Red-vented cockatoo from Rizal, Philippines. (Photo by Diego R. Abaya)

Filipino representatives Emma Cacatian, Lulu Arellano, and I, supervised by National Geographic explorer Karina May Reyes, chose to create an image of the red-vented cockatoo, otherwise locally known as the Katala. The team, with the help of the women-led non-governmental organization Centre For Sustainability Philippines, collected clothing donations from volunteers across Central Luzon. After forming the images, the clothing pieces were donated to Paadelan E Denomagat, a school for Dumagats located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range in Tanay, Rizal.

Silver studded blue butterfly from Cornwall, England. (Photo by Perrans Above Gallery)

As this is a global project, there were contributions from other countries too, such as England, New Zealand, and Norway, whose images were created using recycled plastic instead of clothing.

Polar cod from Bergen, Norway. (Photo by Rory Sagstad)

The withNature2020 project aims to engage people with the need to protect their local ecosystem and to create a visually memorable mass event that will put the spotlight on biodiversity. With one in eight species at risk of extinction and only six of the 20 previous biodiversity targets being “partially met,” we must do better.

In addition, this global initiative emphasizes the importance of international collaboration when taking steps to better our planet. Expanding one’s team across geographical and cultural boundaries extends the possibilities of discovering unrecognized or underappreciated ideas. Through this, it is possible to overcome the world’s biggest problems.

Follow @withNature2020 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter or search for the hashtag #withNature2020.

About the Author: Erika Teng Gui is a Climate Reality Leader and wildlife conservationist. She specializes in animal conservation and is passionate about protecting these species and the ecosystems they sustain.