Insta Inspirations: The Donald E. Davis Arboretum

Patrick Thompson and Morgan Beadles at Sustainability Picnic
Patrick Thompson and Morgan Beadles at Sustainability Picnic

Contributed by Taylor Kraabel, Office of Sustainability Intern

Although the idea of working in an arboretum never occurred to Morgan Beadles, today she could not imagine working anywhere else. Before becoming the Director of Donald E. Davis Arboretum, Morgan worked for the university as a student and graduated with her masters in Landscape Architecture in 2007. She was then employed in the private sector until 2016 when she returned to Auburn and accepted the arboretum position. During that time, professors encouraged her to consider a career with the arboretum and she credits them for her involvement. This summer, Beadles will mark her third year as director.

As its namesake suggests, Donald E. Davis had the vision for Auburn’s arboretum. He planned to have the land acquired for conservation use and by 1963, his dream was a reality. Around that same time, the Universities of Alabama and Tennessee also acquired their own arboretums. Because of this, the Donald E. Davis Arboretum, as well as these other arboreta, are some of the oldest in the SEC. 

Native Azalea in Arboretum
Native Azalea in Arboretum

For those that have never been to an arboretum, Beadles says one should expect of course, trees, but also a myriad of other natural elements. Beadles says the arboretum contains a diverse collection of native plants including cultivars of native plants which can be more conducive to a manicured home landscape. The arboretum also provides multiple self-guided tours, such as the stormwater management tour.

The Donald E. Davis Arboretum emphasizes environmental conservation and is the home of the Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance, an organization whose goal is to conserve rare and endangered regional plant species. The arboretum also encourages the presence of natural pollinators to further enhance the environment. The stormwater system demonstrates how to clean up stream areas and promote wildlife such as native fishes and crayfish. Beadles says they also place great emphasis on educating the public on their local environment. 

When asked to identify the most sustainable aspect of the Arboretum, Beadle could not pinpoint any one thing. The Arboretum itself is a demonstration of sustainability. There is water harvesting, native plants, stormwater maintenance, pervious pavements, and much more. The area also provides habitats for native animals.

Sustainability Picnic in Arboretum
Annual Sustainability Picnic during Welcome Week

For anyone who wishes to get involved with the arboretum, Beadles says simply come by. She says she and her staff are always looking for volunteers. People can also become a Friend of the Arboretum by donating to keep the arboretum beautiful.

Beadles says she believes the arboretum to be one of the most utilized resources on campus, second only to the library. It’s visited by a diversity of university classes, community educational groups, and students looking for a quiet respite. Whether for an event, such as the annual Sustainability Picnic, or simply to enjoy the peace and quiet, the arboretum welcomes you to experience this beautiful resource right in the heart of campus. Visit the Donald E. Davis Arboretum on Instagram for inspiration! 

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Director’s Corner: Trees, Forests, & Reversing Global Warming

 “… in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”        – President John F. Kennedy, 1963

Human activity since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution has caused planetary warming on a global scale, mostly from burning fossil fuels which release greenhouse gasses (GHG) such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.  In the last thirty years, emissions and warming have spiked.

Graph showing atmospheric CO2 concentrations for last 800,000 years.
Concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide continue to climb to unprecedented levels.

Climate science makes it crystal clear that a business-as-usual approach is unacceptable.  We are already seeing the impacts of global warming from local to planetary scales.  To continue burning fossil fuels is to continue adding global warming pollution to the atmosphere, which is already supersaturated with GHG.  Currently, human activities annually add 35+ gigatons (1 gigaton = 1 billion tons) more GHG pollution into the atmosphere than the planet can absorb.  The planetary response is driven by physics: the planet is warming, and the climate is shifting away from what human beings have ever known.  This has consequences for every living organism and every living system on Earth.

As Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann explains, “There’s a race between two tipping points. The tipping point of the public consciousness, which we want to see, and the tipping point in the climate system that we don’t want to see and that we’re coming perilously close to…. It’s a race between our ability to mobilize the public and policymakers to action and the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change we will see the further we go down this road of fossil fuel burning. That’s really the challenge, to turn this ship around as quickly as possible.”

So, what will it take “to turn this ship around as quickly as possible?”

During the 2019 – 2020 academic year, Director’s Corner posts will partially answer that question by highlighting a few of the strategies that will, if we will act on them, stop and reverse global warming and create hundreds of millions of restorative and regenerative jobs.  Dozens of viable solutions already exist.  As Paul Hawken puts it, “Humanity is already on the case,” and all we have to do is take to scale many things we know how to do and are already doing.

The challenges of climate change are actually opportunities.  The warning signs are a heads up that there are ways of doing things that create much better outcomes for humanity and all life.  All we have to do is understand our predicament, acknowledge how we got here, and do something about it.  As Neil DeGrasse Tyson puts it: “There are no scientific or technical obstacles to protecting our world and the precious life it supports.  It all depends on what we truly value, and that we can summon the will to act.”

What do we truly value?  If we each take the time to think about it, I am confident we all end up at the same place.  We want to ensure wellbeing and quality of life for our loved ones.   And that is what drives humanity to do all that is necessary to reverse global warming.

This month, we highlight the climate-friendly contributions that trees and forests make, and how trees can play an even larger role in preserving a livable climate.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, is a global initiative to identify the top 100 solutions to reversing global warming.  More than 70 researchers crunched and validated the numbers that resulted in Drawdown’s findings and rankings.  Several tree-related global warming solutions are included in the findings because, among many other essential ecological values and functions, trees are great at doing two things that can help reverse global warming: First, existing forests are carbon sinks, they store significant amounts of carbon and keep it from being released into the atmosphere.  Second, through photosynthesis, existing, new, and growing forests capture atmospheric carbon and remove it from the atmosphere, with the added benefit of releasing oxygen in return.  Below are some of the tree-specific solutions listed in Drawdown that we know how to do and that, to some degree, are already happening.

  • Primary (old-growth) Forest Protection. Primary forests are those that have existed for a long time in a fundamentally undisturbed state, meaning their ecology is rich, complex, and resilient. Drawdown describes primary forests as “the most critical of all forest types… the greatest repositories of biodiversity on the planet.” There is not very much left to save, so we need to save what remains.    In many countries, more than 90% of primary forests have already been cut.  In the United States, less than 10% remains of the old-growth forests that were here when Europeans first arrived, and much of that, incomprehensively, continues to be threatened by logging.  For many reasons, remaining old-growth forests must be protected.
  • Afforestation. Afforestation means planting new forests where none existed before, or in areas that have been treeless for at least 50 years.  It is important that new forests are planted in areas that avoid farmland, natural grasslands, and other vital ecosystems, as well as avoiding forced relocation and other violations of human rights.
  • Protection and restoration of tropical forests. When it comes to tropical forests there is good news and bad. The bad news: Tropical forests have suffered devastating losses.  Once covering 12% of the planet, they now occupy just 5%.  For 15 years Brazil took aggressive measures to curb deforestation, however, newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro has reversed course and deforestation of the Amazon has increased alarmingly.  The good news: efforts are underway elsewhere to regrow tropical forests.  According to Drawdown, reforestation efforts have sequestered as much as 6 gigatons of CO2, the equivalent of 11% of annual GHG emissions worldwide.   More good news is that tropical forests are far more resilient than originally thought.  Left alone, denuded land will regenerate and in a median time of 66 years recover 90% of their original, if less complex, biomass.
  • Protection and restoration of temperate forests.. In general, temperate forests grow between the tropics and the Arctic Circle, and that includes the vast majority of North America.  Throughout history, 99% of temperate forests have been altered by human behavior.  Temperate forests do not face the same pressures as tropical forests, however, they continue to be fragmented, and fragmentation combined with a warming planet makes forests more vulnerable to heat, drought, wildfires, insects, and pathogens.  Temperate forests are also resilient.  In fact, across the globe, including in the eastern United States, temperate forests are expanding and currently comprise 1.9 billion acres worldwide.  According to the World Atlas, the largest contiguous temperate forest in the world is New York’s Adirondack Park, covering about six million acres.  Drawdown points out that many places in temperate climates are prime locations for reforestation.  For example, 84% of Ireland (which was once heavily forested but is now mostly pasture) is ripe for wide-scale or patchwork reforestation.
Photo of a person walking through a temperate forest.
Photo by Zach Reiner – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions https://unsplash.com/@_zachreiner_?utm_source=haikudeck&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=api-credit

As promising and important as afforestation and restoration are, forest protection must be prioritized. Stanford University professor Rob Jackson chairs the Earth System Science Department and Global Carbon Project and says “I do think eliminating deforestation is more important than planting new forest. Forests provide many benefits beyond storing carbon. They store and recycle our water, they prevent erosion, they harbor biodiversity…. When we plant forests, we gain some of those benefits, but it takes years to decades to grow a healthy forest.”

There was evidence this month that “humanity is on the case” when it comes to reforestation.  The citizens of Ethiopia planted an astounding 350 million trees, and did so in 12 hours!  The Ethiopian government has committed to planting 4 billion mostly indigenous trees, about 40 per citizen.  According to the Associated Press, 2.6 billion trees have been planted so far. Wow!

In the U.S. there are initiatives underway and opportunities for individuals and groups to plant and protect trees.  The National Forest Foundation has a goal of planting 50 million trees in National Forests.  The Arbor Day Foundation is committed to planting 100 million trees in forests and communities, and engage 5 million new tree planters by 2022.

The Earth Day Network’s Canopy Project has the ambitious goal of planting 7.8 billion trees, one for every person on Earth, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2020.

Earth Day originated through citizen action, and every Earth Day since has honored and called for citizen action.  As the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaches the need has never been greater for our active engagement in restoration, protection, education, and advocacy efforts on behalf of those we care about and life on Earth.

The Office of Sustainability is organizing a tree planting event for later this winter.  If you are interested in participating complete this form and you will be contacted at a later date.

Trees and forests have an irreplaceable role to play in global ecological health and reversing global warming. Forest preservation and tree planting are necessary steps.  We know what to do.  People are already doing it at a variety of scales around the world.  We know why forest protection and restoration are necessary, and what these efforts will accomplish.

All that remains is to “summon the will to act.”

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Need Help with Your Forestry, Wildlife, or Other Natural Resource-Related Questions?

Post contributed by Becky Barlow, Forestry Extension Specialist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System & Professor, Auburn University School of Forestry & Wildlife Sciences

Photo of a pine tree.
Photo by Becky Barlow.

Occasionally I meet people and the conversation goes something like this

Other Person: “So what to do you?”

Me:  “I work as a Forestry Extension Specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.”

Other Person: “Cooperative Extension? What is that?”

Me:  “My job is to teach landowners, professionals and the general public about forestry land management, and to help them with forestry-related questions they might have.  Were you ever in 4-H? Or have you heard of 4-H?”

Other Person: “Oh yeah!  I was in the one with the chickens when I was a kid, it was so much fun!”

Me: “4-H is the youth part of Cooperative Extension.  So, I am a bit like the adult version of 4-H for forestry and natural resources!”

Extension and Outreach make up one of the three land-grant university missions.  For Auburn University, Alabama A&M, and Tuskegee University this mission is fulfilled largely by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES).  ACES provides research-based educational information and programs for everyone across Alabama in the areas of agriculture; economic and community development; family and consumer sciences; forestry, wildlife, and natural resources; 4-H and youth development; and urban affairs.  You can find out more about ACES online at  www.aces.edu.

There is an ACES office in each county.  In these offices, there are County Extension Agents who coordinate office staff and activities.  These agents may have specialties like livestock management, horticulture and home grounds, forestry and wildlife, family and consumer sciences, etc.  There are other agents also located in these offices with differing specialties.  They serve the county in which they are housed and a set of about 7-12 counties in the surrounding area.   These are called Regional Extension Agents. For forestry, wildlife and natural resources we have 7 Regional Extension Agents located across the state.  These professionals organize workshops, develop publications and newsletters, videos, and answer questions about forestry and wildlife issues in their region of Alabama.  These services are provided at low to no cost to the public.  To find the Regional Extension Agent who works in your area check out the ACES directory at https://ssl.acesag.auburn.edu/directory-new/.

Extension Specialists (like me) may also work in any of the professional areas listed above, but they often are housed at Alabama A&M or Auburn University and are affiliated with a university college or department. Specialists work closely with Regional Extension Agents to conduct workshops and write extension publications.  They also answer questions from the public.  There are six Forestry and Wildlife ACES Extension Specialists housed within Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.  Their specialties include things like forestry, wildlife, invasive species management, timber harvesting.  Contact information for ACES Extension Specialists and staff that are housed within Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences can be found at this link https://sfws.auburn.edu/extension-faculty/.

When it comes for forestry, wildlife and natural resource information there are other groups that ACES professionals sometimes partner with to help landowners meet their land management goals.  Some of these groups include state agencies, private consulting foresters, and arborists.

Photo of a pine forest ecosystem.
Public and private experts can help you find the best ways to manage and protect your land’s natural resources. Photo by Becky Barlow.

State agencies employees work for a public agency such as ACES, but there are other state agencies that can also help you with your land management decisions.  These include the Alabama Forestry Commission (http://www.forestry.state.al.us/ ), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (https://www.outdooralabama.com/ ), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/al/home/ ).  These agency employees provide services at no charge or reduced rate for things such as 1) timber tract assessment, 2) insect and disease assessments, 3) management plan development, 4) prescribed fire plans, 5) wildlife management and habitat development, and 6) can help landowners find contractors or consulting foresters to carry out management activities.

Private consulting foresters assist landowners for a fee and provide services such as 1) timber tract assessment, 2) management plan development, 3) timber sales, 4) American Tree Farm System certification, and 5) contractor location assistance.  These individuals represent the landowner in all efforts and work to help them achieve land management goals.  Some states require that they be registered with a State Registration Board.  Alabama has this requirement.  More information about Alabama’s Registered Forester program can be found at this link http://www.asbrf.alabama.gov/.

Finally, homeowners and landowners may need individual tree removal or assessment assistance.  In this case, an arborist is needed.  To find a certified arborist who can help you make decisions about the health and maintenance of trees around your home or other buildings visit   http://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist.

If often takes a team of professionals to help landowners and homeowners answer their forestry, wildlife, or other natural resource questions.  Any of the groups highlighted in this article will be ready and willing to help when you need them.  And, if they are not able to assist you directly, they will help you find the right professional for your needs.

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The Beauty & Value of Trees

Post contributed by Dr. Wendy Vidor, Lecturer, Department of Horticulture 

My fondest childhood memory is connected to a tree, a common silver maple (Acer saccharinum).  With its shimmery silver white leaves, smooth, and somewhat flaky bark, and helicopter double samaras. It was my connection to the earth and the world around me.  I guess you could say that this tree had influenced my path in life to become a horticulturist.

The tree was my sanctuary and solace. I would climb its many limbed branches to reach the top of the world.  I would sit in that tree for it seemed hours just listening to nature and observing the world around me.

Trees are beautiful and majestic, provide aesthetic beauty with their endless variety of forms, textures and shapes and provide vibrant colors as they change through the seasons. They have history and they are living memorials.  They provide emotional attachments and create memories and bonds of our childhood.

A picture of a waterfall at Longwood Gardens. Photo by Wendy Vidor.
A view at Longwood Gardens. Photo credit: Wendy Vidor, 2019.

Trees also provide ecological and environmental value to our landscapes.   Here are some of the benefits trees provide:

  • Oxygen
  • Improve air quality by filtering out pollutants.
  • Conserve water
  • Help to prevent soil erosion
  • Carbon sequestration

Trees in urban landscapes provide:

  • Aesthetics
  • Energy conservation “Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30%” according to the USDA Forest Service.
  • Increased economic value to our homes and businesses.
  • Moderation of temperature by reducing the heat island effect in cities by deflecting the sunlight off pavement and commercial buildings.
  • They capture pollutants and dust, protect us from wind and rain, and lower the temperature.

Why does it seem that we have lost our connection to the trees?  In today’s society we have noticed that people are developing “plant blindness.” We have become disconnected from nature and no longer look at the intricacies of plants and trees as part of the landscape. We walk through our campus every day without noticing the beauty surrounding us.

Auburn University’s campus is filled with trees that are magnificent specimens of nature.  There is the famous “Toomers Oak” (Quercus virginiana) that we roll each year to celebrate victories, and also very rare specimens like the Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood), which was once thought to be extinct. This tree has been on the earth for over 50 million years.  Seeds of this tree were bought back from China where it was discovered growing in the wild in the town of Modaoqi, China in 1941 by Chinese forester, T. Kan.  Seed collected from the original site were made available to several arboretums and campuses around the country including Auburn’s Donald E. Davis arboretum, the Missouri Botanical Garden and other gardens and horticulture departments across the country. We have the magnificent Donald E. Davis Arboretum with over 39 Oak specimens and other tree and shrub collections on our campus.  Another tree of note is the “Founders Oak” Quercus stellata which is also labeled in the Arboretum.   Additionally, we have thousands of other trees and shrubs planted around campus that have been collected and planted for all to enjoy.

The history and uniqueness of Auburn’s campus is a tribute to the many trees planted and protected by our Tree Preservation Committee.   These trees add another layer to the history and beauty of Auburn University.  Take a moment to pause, reflect, and reconnect under these magnificent wonders of nature.

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Green Game 2019 Needs Volunteers

Post adapted from post contributed by Matthew Preisser, Former Office of Sustainability Intern

The annual Green Game at Auburn University is set to kick off on September 14th as the Auburn Tigers prepare to face off against Kent State. The Green Game is an opportunity to celebrate the sustainability-related initiatives of the Athletics department, while encouraging fans to also participate in making Gamedays greener.

During the 2018 season, tailgaters recycled around 27 tons of material. However, our all-time high was achieved in 2013 with 41 tons being recycled. Numerous collaborators around campus, including Auburn’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Department and the Office of Sustainability, hope that with your help this season we can beat that record! Let’s make Auburn the #1 recycler in the SEC!!

By recycling cardboard, plastic, and aluminum cans, fans can do their part to conserve resources and help keep the Loveliest Village on The Plains clean. Volunteers pass out recycling bags each week before the game, along with the hundreds of additional recycling locations set up in and outside of the stadium, so Tiger fans can easily recycle while on campus.

This upcoming Green Game will feature the “Trash Talkers” for the third year. Trained and dedicated Trash Talkers will be located at numerous recycling stations just outside and within the stadium during the first half of the game to inform guests on what and where items can be recycled.

Fans can eliminate waste and support Auburn Athletics, the Waste Reduction and Recycling Department, and the Office of Sustainability’s effort to make Gamedays more sustainable through a few simple actions:

  • Swap disposable tailgate supplies for items that can be reused, such as tableware, cloth napkins, and tablecloths.
  • Choose plastic and aluminum over glass and Styrofoam.
  • Recycle all plastic bottles and aluminum cans.
  • Bring a clear, reusable water bottle to the game and use the water refill stations to fill it up.
  • Clean up tailgate areas after the game.

Green Game Sign Up
Sign Up to be a “Trash Talker” at this year’s Green Game!

Currently, we are accepting volunteers to be Trash Talkers for the Green Game. The Office of Sustainability will provide T-Shirts, food before the game, entrance into the stadium, and a chance to win a Gus Malzahn signed football. Volunteers will be trained and expected to work through halftime. To sign up, please register by completing our Green Game Volunteer Form by Sunday, September 8th at 11:59 PM.

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Campus Changemaker: Dr. Nanette Chadwick

Contributed by Taylor Kraabel, Office of Sustainability Intern

Dr. Nanette Chadwick wears many hats at Auburn University. As the Director of Academic Sustainability Programs (ASP), she has been an integral part of Auburn sustainability for the past eight years. In addition to this role, Chadwick has also spent 30 years conducting research in marine biology and ecology. Due to her experience and expertise in this field, she also teaches several classes, both undergraduate and graduate, on these topics.

Getting Involved with Academic Sustainability Programs

Chadwick says ASP can be broken down into three main areas: curriculum, research, and coordination with other campus units. The first main area, curriculum, includes faculty development and enhancement of sustainability content in courses throughout the university and supervising the Minor in Sustainability Studies. Every other year, Chadwick leads a training program for faculty who wish to incorporate sustainability topics into their classes. At the end of the training, participants may earn a monetary award by successfully aligning their course material to sustainability. Another area or ASP work includes sustainability research. Chadwick conducts an inventory of all the sustainability research currently happening at Auburn to encourage collaboration between faculty and departments. On top of all of this, Chadwick coordinates with other sustainability-related programs, student groups, and facilities around campus to help strength sustainability in Auburn’s academic offerings.

Dr. Nanette Chadwick studying coral reefs
Dr. Nanette Chadwick studying coral reefs

Even before becoming the Director of ASP, the presence of sustainability in Chadwick’s life was evident. Her primary professional experience with sustainability consists of her coral reef research. For the past 30 years, Chadwick has been at the forefront of coral reef research and conservation. She has worked with the Catalina Island Marine Institute to expose younger generations to the oceanic environment and help them foster a love for this unique habitat. She has also been involved with The School for Field Studies in the Caribbean and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel where she has taught students about conservation issues, and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Research where she has conducted much of her research. This passion for the environment opened the door for Chadwick to be exposed to the other topics and complexities of sustainability.

The future of ASP at Auburn is bright as Chadwick is always thinking of new ways to expand the program. Due to the popularity of the Introduction to Sustainability course, Chadwick has recently hired a full-time sustainability instructor. She anticipates that a second instructor may be needed in the near future as well, given sustainability is becoming increasingly prominent in today’s society and among Auburn students. As of now, several majors offered at Auburn actually require Introduction to Sustainability as part of their curriculum, a step Chadwick hopes other colleges will also take. The presence of sustainability in Auburn academics and its expansion directly reflect the efforts of Chadwick and ASP.

Sustainability Challenges and Inspiring Initivates

While there are countless sustainability challenges, two stand out in Chadwick’s mind – climate change and human population growth. Perhaps the most pressing issue is climate change, which is Chadwick’s main concern in part because it is causing a major decline of coral reefs. Chadwick says that one of the reasons more is not being done to combat climate change is the long lag time between our emissions and their effects. It is often difficult for people to see that link, thus posing the question: “Can we respond to this crisis in time?”

Another sustainability obstacle is the growing human population. Under current conditions, Chadwick states that the natural world simply cannot support the number of humans that are projected to be inhabiting it. She says the best way to combat this issue is providing education and career opportunities for women. Studies have discovered that the number of children women have is linked to their education level and/or occupation, with more educated women choosing to have fewer children. Fortunately, progressive global movements have encouraged this shift, a promising sign that this issue is resolvable.

In and around Auburn, much is being done to make our community and campus more sustainable; however, the dining program is Chadwick’s personal favorite. Tiger Dining uses a great deal of local food, with a goal to have at least 20% of it coming from our region. They are also involved in reducing food waste by collaborating with the Campus Kitchens Project, which donates leftover food to those in need. Tiger Dining has also banned the use of styrofoam within campus dining operations, opting for recyclable and compostable options instead. Chadwick says that fostering programs such as these is what puts Auburn at the forefront of sustainability in higher education.

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Director’s Corner: The Oceans Cradle All Life on Earth & Require Immediate Protection & Restoration

“It ought to be hard for a species that occupies roughly 10% of the earth’s land to mess up 70% of the planet’s entire surface. Yet humans are well on the way to wrecking the oceans.” Jennifer Duggan, Time, February 4, 2019

Life on Earth began in primitive seas about 3.8 billion years ago. Out of those humble beginnings emerged a spectacular tapestry of life prolific in abundance, diversity, complexity, and beauty in the sea, on land, and in the air. To this day, the oceans make life as we know it possible.

What’s more, oceans are home to millions of organisms, from tiny single-celled creatures to the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale. Oceans play a significant role in regulating climate, the hydrologic cycle, nutrient and materials cycling, wind patterns, and the overall health of the planet’s ecosystems. Not to mention the oceans’ contribution to economic, social, and cultural enrichment.

I guess most people are unaware of all this and take the global ocean for granted. Otherwise, how could we possibly find ourselves in a situation where, according to research done back in 2011, only 4% of the world’s oceans remain undamaged by human activity. Here are some updated specifics about what that damage looks like:

  • Overharvesting of fish stocks: Fish stocks continue to decline in most places around the world. A third of global fisheries are operating at biologically unsustainable levels. The stocks of some species, such as bluefin tuna and Atlantic cod, have been reduced by 95%.
  • Bycatch: Accompanying the overharvesting of target species, a huge variety of unwanted marine life also gets caught in nets and accounts for a shocking 25% of all the tonnage of species caught every year. Large numbers of juvenile fish, seabirds, sharks, turtles, whales, dolphins, and porpoises die in nets and are just thrown away. This is an extraordinary and immoral waste of life.
  • Ocean acidification due to fossil fuel burning: Oceans absorb about 25% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere produced by burning oil, gas, and coal, changing the basic chemistry of the ocean, making it more acidic. Creatures with calcium carbonite shells (oysters, crabs, corals, etc.) have a hard time growing and maintaining their shells in this environment. In fact, some organisms’ shells are already dissolving in this more acidic water. According to the Smithsonian Institution: “Since the beginning of the industrial era, the ocean has absorbed some 525 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, presently around 22 million tons per day….In the past 200 years alone, ocean water has become 30 percent more acidic—faster than any known change in ocean chemistry in the last 50 million years.” Unless conditions change, one of the expected outcomes of acidification and warming is that all the planet’s coral reefs will be dead in the next few decades.
Coral bleaching at Heron Island
Coral bleaching at Heron Island, February, 2016 The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers.

Coral reefs are like the rainforests of the ocean, full of life, home to the most abundant and diverse collection of marine species on the planet, and they provide important ecological services. Their loss would be devastating, environmentally and economically.

  • Eutrophication of coastal waters: This problem is caused by excessive nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – in the water because of the application of fertilizer on farmland, golf courses, and lawns. Excessive fertilizer and animal waste runs off the land and makes its way to estuaries and coastal waters leading to algal blooms. These blooms cause hypoxic (insufficient dissolved oxygen) and anoxic (zero dissolved oxygen) conditions that create dead zones. They are called dead zones for obvious reasons. They cause the suffocation of organisms trapped in those areas. There are now hundreds of dead zones in coastal waters around the world. The massive algal blooms in Florida in the last year caused largely by nutrient pollution from agriculture, human waste, and the profoundly arrogant and unwise re-engineering of the hydrology of the Florida peninsula for land development purposes, resulted in equally massive deaths of fish, crabs, manatees, turtles, and, well, you get the idea.
  • Other forms of pollution from stormwater runoff, industrial discharges, shipping traffic, land use changes, and the behavior of consumers include – among other things – toxic substances and plastics. Ah yes, plastics. Every year, about eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean. You may have seen the report in March of a young curvier beaked whale near the Philippines that died from starvation due to nearly 90 pounds of plastic in its stomach. ocean water with plastic pollutionUnknown numbers of creatures die from consuming plastics, and the closer we look, the more damage we uncover. Plenty of good resources are available that explain the problem of plastics in the oceans. Here is a brief summary from the Center for Biological Diversity, and a fact sheet from the Earth Day Network. It is long past time for single-use plastics to be eliminated. The public interest and the interest of life on Earth far outweigh the financial interests of the single-use plastics industry. And it’s long past time for inconsiderate, irresponsible disposal of any kind of waste to end. In fact, it’s long past time for the concept of “waste” to end. Waste does not exist in the natural world, where waste = food.

So, what can we do about all this?

The nations of the world recognize this problem, and many other crises impacting the world, and created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address them. These goals were embraced by people in virtually every nation. SDG Goal 14 is focused on oceans: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

Goal 14 has established ten targets, some to be achieved by 2020 and others by 2030. Here is a summary of these targets:

  • Prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds…
  • Sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts…
  • Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification…
  • Effectively regulate harvesting and overharvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans…
  • Conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas… (10%?? Seems like a low bar to me.)
  • Prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies…
  • Increase the economic benefits to Small Island Developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism.
  • Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health…
  • Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets.
  • Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law…

As you can see, these are far-reaching goals that require global action, with every country contributing. They require government action, which requires governments hearing from their citizens so that those governments will be held accountable for achieving Goal 14 and all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs were created to protect the rights of individuals everywhere, now and in the future, and secure a more resilient and livable world for life on Earth.

As the great oceanographer Sylvia Earle puts it: “Our past, our present, and whatever remains of our future, absolutely depends on what we do now.”

The “we” Dr. Earle is talking about is us, citizens of every country. Our individual behaviors are important, but insufficient. Without strong action on national and international scales, the situation will only get worse. Left to themselves, governments have not demonstrated the commitment necessary to achieve the targets of SDG Goal 14. Citizens working together to demand responsible action has made transformational impact in the past (see the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970), and can do so again.

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Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Bubbles

Contributed by Kaitlyn Baker, ASI Divemaster, Auburn University Alumna ‘18

Auburn students Randall Dunlap and Kelly Burnham scuba diving
Auburn students Randall Dunlap and Kelly Burnham

SCUBA diving is an amazing opportunity to discover the world below sea level. With the ocean covering the majority of the earth, there is so much to explore. Ocean life dates to the beginning of time. Diverse plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates ensure beautiful dives all over the globe. Divers get a front row seat to the amazing underwater world. With that, we also see firsthand the effects of global climate change. By being knowledgeable divers, we can have an impact on the world around us.

Coral reefs are the second most biodiverse ecosystem behind tropical rain forests. Reefs are an intertwined environment where each small factor plays a role in keeping the equilibrium and system functioning. So many people live near the coast and rely on this ecosystem to sustain life. Ecotourism in these areas is growing. Most divers love the travel that comes along with diving. Considering travel arrangements that have a lower footprint will be beneficial to both divers and locals.

Just like divers can observe the effects of climate change, we can also contribute to the damage if we aren’t safe and careful. It is important to remember we are in an environment that is not our own and to treat it with respect. Never dive too close to a reef to ensure you don’t kick the coral with your fins or a piece of gear does not come in contact with the reef. Spearfishing is popular among recreational divers. Fishers should be knowledgeable about limits and seasons. Spearfishing can be very beneficial to reefs with the removal of invasive species, such as lionfish in the Atlantic.

Auburn Students in PHED 1760
Auburn Students in PHED 1760

Choose a dive operation that is knowledgeable about the local environment and uses sustainable diving practices. An old phrase, “take only pictures, leave only bubbles” is how we want to dive. Divers are ambassadors for the underwater world who can influence others but leave our dive sites exactly how we found them.

Want to learn more? Auburn Alabama’s local dive center is Adventure Sports SCUBA, Inc. SCUBA courses are offered year-round for those wanting to learn how to dive.

Auburn University students may also take the SCUBA diving course (PHED 1760) and earn university credit. The Auburn University Marine Biology Club is another great way to get involved and learn more with others who have a passion for the seas.

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Collaborative Capitalism: Investing in the Future of Your Community

Contributed by Brittany Branyon, Program Coordinator, Cary Center Nonprofit Affiliate Program

Have you ever heard of collaborative capitalism? Perhaps you’ve heard of social impact investing? Even if you don’t know it by name, surely the concept is familiar.

Social impact investing regards investments made into an organization intended to generate a measurable social or environmental impact in addition to financial return.

Ah yes, there’s the lightbulb!

Social impact investing has gained even more traction recently as millennials have entered the workforce and begun to find ways to contribute to causes they are passionate about. Many have found that they can make an impact while earning a return.

Maybe you’ve read about microloans, specifically in regard to female business owners or farmers in third world countries. This is a form of social impact investing on a smaller scale (hence, micro). Given the success we’ve seen with these programs, one can see how this concept can be productive in our community.

Social impact investing is an efficient way to fund causes and organizations at the grassroots level and beyond, allowing potential donors to contribute more and nonprofits to further their reach.

womens philanthropy board spring symposium posterOn Monday, April 8th, the Women’s Philanthropy Board is hosting their annual Spring Symposium at the Auburn Hotel and Conference Center where Teri Lovelace of LOCUS Impact Investing, an expert in this subject, will be speaking in Symposium Session II at 11:00 am.

Ms. Lovelace has over 27 years in the philanthropic, mission investing and the nonprofit sector and  is Chief Impact Officer & Senior Vice President for Virginia Community Capital (VCC) and President of VCC’s new social enterprise – LOCUS Impact Investing.

In addition to the session, Ms. Lovelace will join Greg Doepke of Aspire to give in the afternoon for a forum discussion. This is the perfect opportunity to ask questions and offer input.

The forum, titled “How Social Impact Investing Can Build Prosperous and Vibrant Communities” is an event you certainly don’t want to miss. It begins at 2:00 pm on Monday at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center, and like the morning session, is a free event.

For more information about the Cary Center and Women’s Philanthropy Board, visit the Cary Center’s website.

womens philanthropy board logo

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