“Immerse yourself in nature on a regular basis. Walk in it, sit in it, play in it, watch it, listen to it, smell it, taste it, feel it. Once you feel connected to your natural environment you can’t help but take action to protect it.”
It sounds so simple. Then why is our natural environment in the state it is.
OzGREENS’s Anna and Anton Juodvalkis’ message for World Environment Day June 5th needs to ring loud and clear. Fortunately, their army of young environmental warriors have heeded the call and are our hope for the future. We chat to Anna and Anton on the eve of this important day on the World stage.
The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is Biodiversity. How have recent climatic events affected biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety of plants and animals in the world or in a particular habitat. As humans, we’re interconnected with ecological systems and biodiversity is essential for our health and wellbeing. Yet, somewhere along the line, much of western society seems to have forgotten this. That’s why it’s so important to experience nature on a regular basis. Climatic events such as the recent bushfires are a really sharp reminder that we’re not separate from our natural environment. The fires have had an adverse affect on biodiversity and it’s really painful to think about.
What programs is OzGREEN currently involved in that would have a positive impact on biodiversity?
OzGREEN has a really long history monitoring water quality in various river systems around the world, so we’re particularly interested in aquatic biodiversity. One program we are involved with is Bellingen Riverwatch. This program has been running for four years and is a partnership between OzGREEN, The Department of Planning, Industry & Environment and nine other organisations. OzGREEN’s role is to support the 44 volunteer citizen scientists who test water quality across 28 sites along the Bellinger and Kalang rivers on a monthly basis. The data collected by the volunteers is accessed by the scientists and organisations working to recover the critically endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle.
Bellingen Riverwatch is valuable for so many different reasons. One aspect we really like is that it connects people with their natural environment and builds awareness and knowledge about local ecological communities. We are so blessed to live in a region that is rich in biodiversity. Our catchment has over one thousand plant species, more than one hundred different types of birds, and a plethora of mammal, frog and reptile species. Monitoring water quality via Bellingen Riverwatch has a positive effect on the environment because it encourages people to examine the habitat of these plants and animals and engages them to take action to keep it healthy.
Have you got any tips for Bellingen Shire residents who would are interested in working towards improving local biodiversity?
Join a local environment group that resonates with you. We are incredibly lucky to live in a community where there are countless groups working in a variety of different ways to improve local biodiversity. There’s OzGREEN/Bellingen Riverwatch, the Jalliigirr Biodiversity Alliance, Landcare, Bellingen Environment Centre, Dorrigo Environment Centre, The Centre for Ecological Learning, The Bellingen Rights of Nature Group, Kalang River Forest Alliance, Wires, the Great Koala National Park group and Bellingen Island Committee just to name a few!
Some of these groups are undertaking activities that directly improve biodiversity while others are undertaking environmental projects that improve local biodiversity in a more indirect way. We think people should do whatever inspires them!
Does working with young environmental warriors give you both hope for our future?
Yes, we are very hopeful about the future. Young people care about the environment and are very effective at leading change. School Strike for Climate is an excellent example of this. But young people are more than just protesters. They are also amazing social innovators. The thing we love about OzGREEN is it fully supports young people’s solutions to environmental challenges. This builds a really strong sense of self efficacy and empowers youth to become leaders of positive change.
Many of OzGREEN’s young participants go on to do very inspiring things. One OzGREEN participant led Change.org’s internationalisation effort, another became a local government Councillor when she was just twenty-one, another takes young Australians to a variety of United Nation events each year and another founded the Sydney Youth Climate Action Network and then became a successful entrepreneur. It’s actually the people that we see coming through our programs that keep us hopeful about the future.
How can people get involved with OzGREEN’s local environmental initiatives?
We’d love local people to participate in OzGREEN’s programs and events. We have some really exciting grant funded projects to deliver over the next twelve months including Bellingen Riverwatch, Youth Leading the World, MyRiver Coffs Harbour and Fostering Resilient Communities (targeting North Bellingen, Gleniffier, Kalang and Thora).
We’re also planning some fun and interactive element related events in partnership with Coffs Coast Regional Science Hub. These events will explore the ways fire, earth and air are affected by various environmental challenges.