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There is a theoretical new era dawning in which the Earth will begin to recover and restore species and ecosystems at a faster rate than they are being lost.
“The Accretocene,” as it is called, was the focus of a Conversations event on Thursday night at Vancouver’s Science World. Researched and developed by photographer and author Andrew S. Wright along with biologist Gregg Howald, the Accretocene concept brings a rare glimmer of hope in a dark time.
The hour-long livestreamed event featured Canada’s National Observer founder and editor-in-chief Linda Solomon Wood in dialogue with Wright and Howald, and marked the release of Wright’s new book, Pelican’s Paradise. The photography in the book, along with Wright’s research on rewilding and restoring ecosystems across the Pacific Ocean, is on display at Vancouver’s Science World in an exhibition titled Preventing Extinctions: Architecting the Accretocene.
Watch: Preventing Extinctions panel at Science World
Wright and Howald travelled together to some of the most remote and biologically threatened environments in the Pacific — from Gwaii Haanas in Haida Gwaii, to Palmyra Atoll in the south Pacific, to the Hawaiian island Kaho‘olawe, to the island of Okinoshima, Japan, and finally the Galapagos.
They documented the efforts of Island Conservation, a non-profit that works to protect species from extinction by removing invasive species like rats, mice, and cats, which have decimated local biodiversity. Island Conservation has to date restored 65 islands across the world, protecting more than 500 species.
“It’s about the conservation of threatened species and recovery of threatened ecosystems,” said Howald, CEO of FreshWater Life, an NGO that works on freshwater preservation. “Islands support a disproportionate amount of our global biodiversity. About 20 per cent [of global biodiversity] are found on these islands, and they represent just about five per cent of the Earth’s surface.”
On the flipside, these islands also experience a disproportionate amount of extinctions — about 70 per cent to 75 per cent, said Howald, while 40 per cent of threatened species today are found on islands. Invasive species are the major drivers of extinction events, meaning that removing those species allows for threatened species to recover and repopulate. Island Conservation’s approach, in consultation with local governments and communities, employs strategic and precise use of rodenticide in such a way that doesn’t damage other species.
A case study for this technique is Palmyra Atoll, where crab populations have recovered from invasive species over the past 10 years after rats were removed. Wright documented the island’s now-thriving coconut crabs, a vibrantly coloured and skittish species that he captured by lying down and presenting himself as bait. “They can smell you and they then come to investigate,” said Wright with a grin. “You’ve just got to keep an eye on your toes while you’re looking through the lens because they will take your fingers and toes off.”
Wright’s photos capture these environments and the work of “rewilding” in stunning and never-before-seen detail: they document natural environments that are at once the world’s most remote and gorgeous, and also the most threatened. For some islands, the problem is rodents. For others, its climate change and rising sea levels. This makes some islands essentially beyond saving.
The Accretocene aspires to right some of what was done wrong, Wright said. “The Accretocene is the opposite of the Anthropocene,” he added.
“It’s this period of geological time where humans take nurturing of the world and biodiversity seriously and proactively to create this flourish of biodiversity.”
Still, this process is controversial. Some feel it’s not up to humans to make decisions for other ecosystems. At Okinoshima, a local member of their team was clearly uncomfortable with the euthanization of rats given Shinto belief that all life is sacred. Wright acknowledged this complexity.
“It could be argued that we’re playing God here, right?” he said. “But the reality is we do that all day, every day through our everyday actions. We just do it badly because we don’t think about the consequences. On these islands, where you’ve got these creatures going extinct that reflect the beauty and wildness of the world, this good work really protects all of that. We have to play God, but perhaps we could do it just a bit better than we used to do it.”
There is a theoretical new era dawning in which the Earth will begin to recover and restore species and ecosystems at a faster rate than they are being lost: the Accretocene. In the creation of his book, Pelican’s Paradise, photographer Andrew S. Wright traveled from Gwaii Haanas in Haida Gwaii, to Palmyra Atoll in the south Pacific, to the Hawaiian island Kaho‘olawe, to the island of Okinoshima, Japan, and finally the Galapagos to offer a glimpse of the possibilities this new era holds. A non-profit called Island Conservation collaborated with locals to protect species from extinction by removing invasives like rats, mice, and cats, which have decimated biodiversity. To date, Island Conservation has worked on the restoration of 65 islands across the world, protecting more than 500 species. Joined by biologist Gregg Howald in Conversation with Linda Solomon Wood, this one hour conversation offers a glimmer of hope for the future of biodiversity.