In the wake of Earth Day, it can be far too easy to fall back into regular routines and forget what pro-planet accomplishments and commitments you recognized just a few days ago.
But for organizations like the Channel Islands National Park, Channel Islands Restoration and Friends of the Island Fox, issues of the environment do not take a break – not for a lapse in memory, a national pandemic or anything in between.
To commemorate the 50th year of Earth Day, which came and went on April 22, as well as remind the community of their undeniable work, the three organizations held a special live event through Zoom on Sunday.
In total, 35 participants – not counting non-video viewers who called into the Zoom meeting – joined Channel Islands Restoration President Cindy Kimmick, Friends of the Island Fox Co-founder Keri Dearborn, and Channel Islands National Park Education Coordinator Monique Navarro for Sunday afternoon’s two-hour virtual presentation.
While the first hour provided a sneak peak into each organization’s ongoing work through COVID-19, the second offered pseudo-Earth Day events, giving a glimpse into what could have been had the organizations been able to celebrate in-person.
And though a Zoom call is a little different than past festivities, it gave the organizations a chance to honor a mission much larger than what medium is used to communicate or the location of those tuning in. A mission the 120 minutes of mediated interaction spent every second honoring – conservation.
“It’s so wonderful to see everyone out there,” Ms. Kimmick said on the call. “This is a unique opportunity because we have collaboration between all three of us.”
Typically, local environmental organizations like Channel Islands Restoration table at Santa Barbara’s annual Earth Day Festival, which was supposed to take place in Alameda Park from April 17-19. But with large gatherings taking a backseat to social distancing, CIR’s usual place of presentation vanished.
Instead, Ms. Kimmick brought her posters, artifacts and information to Zoom, where she discussed the CIR’s integral work in preserving the Channel Island’s natural habitats. What would have been a hands-on experience turned into a screen-sharing PowerPoint presentation on the dangers of invasive plants like giant reed and black mustard, as well as nonnative animals such as golden eagles, to the survival of native populations.
In a way, going online even gave CIR a larger platform than previous years spent at the festival, allowing the nonprofit to bring in partners like the National Park Service and Friends of the Island Fox. CIR, NPS and FIF may be separate in activity and focus, but each shares a similar goal in protecting the Channel Islands.
Located off the California coast between Point Conception and the Mexican border, the Channel Islands are a prime example of the coastal Mediterranean ecosystem, found in just five places on Earth. Across its 2,500-mile territory, this region is also home to over 2,000 plant and animal species. In fact, 145 species inhabiting the islands are endemic to the area, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world.
Five of the eight Channel Islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara) and the six nautical miles surrounding each make up Channel Islands National Park. Since 1980, NPS has helped protect the rare and endangered plants and animals that make the islands a beacon of biodiversity. And with the help of nonprofits like CIR and FIF, native species now have a fighting chance against common environmental challenges.
This is why issues conservation do not take a break, as evidenced by Sunday’s Zoom meeting. Together, the organizations served to show that work on the Channel Islands cannot and should not cease in the midst of a crisis, even if that means tweaking methods of operation just a smidge.
For NPS and CIR, whose work is largely education-based, adaptation has come in the way of going virtual. Ms. Navarro spent her portion of the live event explaining Channel Island National Park’s pool of online services.
With the park’s mainland visitor center, boat service to the island and research at a standstill, online education could be its primary way to preserve the islands through the next few months. Still, by offering virtual programs for K-12 students and teachers, NPS is determined to bring word of the region’s importance home.
Ms. Navarro thinks the extended stay-at-home order itself could have an indirect influence on appreciating the Channel Islands. Personally, all this time spent at home has allowed Ms. Navarro to get in touch with her surroundings, bringing her a little closer to the world passing by.
Building on her own experience, she invited viewers to learn more about their immediate ecosystems. Whether that’s a nest they notice on a walk down the street, or visiting the Channel Islands National Park website at nps.gov/chis/index.htm, Ms. Navarro thinks newfound free time can open some eyes.
Like NPS, CIR hopes their website at cirweb.org/mission can offer some solace through the public health crisis. Apart from education, the nonprofit’s work on the mainland will continue as island-based projects have taken a break until normalcy starts to set in again.
Due to decreased NPS and CIR presence on the islands, much in-person monitoring of the region has taken a break. Yet one essential area of research remains – research on island fox.
Until the end of June, the island fox, who live on six of the Channel Islands and no where else in the world, are breeding, so conservation efforts of Friends of the Island Fox naturally take a step back during this time of year. Less reliant on in-person interactions with the animals, FIF can resume nearly normal operations, still continuing research projects into the fox populations, Ms. Dearborn explained throughout her portion of the Zoom meeting.
A program of CIR, FIF hopes to ensure the island fox’s prolonged survival through microchipping individual animals, funding annual health checks and vaccinations, and preserving the islands’ natural ecosystem. Since 2000, these efforts, alongside other operations by likeminded organizations, helped bring the island fox populations back from the brink of extinction.
Though Ms. Dearborn gave insight into one of the Channel Islands’ conservation success stories, she also offered a poignant comparison to the public health crisis.
In 1999, the Santa Catalina Island fox population took a turn for the worse. Biologists, concerned over the rapid decline, soon found the cause for near extinction – an outbreak of disease. Exposed to a strain of canine distemper, a virus typically found among dogs, the number of Catalina Island foxes dropped to about 100.
To combat the crisis, the remaining foxes were isolated in pairs to facilitate captive breeding. Today, the Catalina fox population has rebounded a total of 1,500 animals, an outcome Ms. Dearborn emphasized as a lesson to humans.
“Just like we are, the foxes weren’t too happy with confinement,” she said. “We all have to work together to protect each other. The foxes had to work together, and we have to do that for ourselves for the coronavirus.”