Over 40 years ago, an iconic photograph of the earth was taken from 28,000 miles in space by the crew of Apollo 17. The photo, known as “the Blue Marble,” depicts the Earth as a blue and white sphere set against the inky blackness of space — and it is a haunting image of our fragile existence. As we approach Earth Day 2013, perhaps this is a good time to reflect on this photograph and consider how we are doing.
When it comes to our planet, it seems that all we hear is doom and gloom. We endlessly debate global climate change and argue about whether it is the result of natural processes or human activities. In the tropics, wild populations of everything from monarch butterflies to African rhinos are declining precipitously while polar bears struggle to survive in an ice-free arctic. In South Georgia, water consumption is the concern as we watch the once beautiful Radium Springs spend much of the year as a dry creek bed.
But not all of the news is bad, if you know where to look. In our own community, for example, we are fortunate to have two institutions that have a positive impact on people’s attitudes about our planet. Chehaw Park and the Flint RiverQuarium have remarkably similar missions. Chehaw is about “inspiring people to connect with nature and encouraging conservation action through positive recreational and educational experiences.” The RiverQuarium’s mission is to “promote conservation through aquatic exhibits and educational, entertaining experiences.” The community embraces these missions and supports our activities as we reach out to thousands of young people from all over the south Georgia. Both Chehaw and FRQ host summer camps, overnight programs and the visits of thousands of school children.
Chehaw works closely with the Dougherty County School System, hosting the annual Science Olympiad for all students in the third-fifth grades and supporting Turner Elementary School as a Partner in Excellence. Our junior zookeeper program engages teenagers, teaching them various aspects of zoo animal management and immersing them in wildlife education programming. At the college level, Chehaw recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Albany State University to formalize the many biology and natural resource programs that have been conducted in recent years. We regularly host ASU students for lab classes, field research projects and internships. Drafting students at Albany Technical College are learning about the natural world by working on plans for a new North American animal section in the zoo, and Georgia Southwestern has initiated a new class, Biology 4760: Zoo Animal Care & Maintenance. This unique program is allowing Biology students to learn about careers in zoo management.
According to NationalGeographic.com, Earth Day is now celebrated by a billion people in 180 nations around the world. Albany can celebrate Earth Day at Chehaw on Saturday, April 27, as we host a nationwide, Association of Zoos and Aquariums event known as the Party for the Planet™. On that same day, The Flint RiverQuarium (along with Darton State College) will engage the community with a 5K run and music festival. Both Chehaw and FRQ have many bright, dedicated young people who will be out that day actively engaged in supporting our missions. When viewed in this youth-oriented light, the future does not seem all that grim. Perhaps that is where our hope lies, as we heed the Native American proverb: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
Doug Porter is executive director of Chehaw Park.