• Charmaine Rodrigues

Protecting nature for natures sake

On Monday, I had a lovely day out with my best mate Bec and her two lovely kids. Unusually for me, a trip to the museum also included going to IMAX to watch a wildlife documentary. Not my usual fare (I'm more a fan of escapist action ) - I was absolutely blown away!

The movie, "

Flight of the Butterflies

", is an incredibly beautiful film about one man's obsession with understanding the life-cycle and hibernation habits of the monarch butterfly.

I was incredibly moved by the story, which centres around the work of

Dr. Fred Urquhart

, who spent nearly 40 years learning about the

monarch butterfly

, in particular, trying to identify the course of what is now understood to be one of the longest known migrations of any insect - the the flight of the monarch butterfly from central Mexico to northern America and back.

It's an amazing story. The butterfly is so small and absolutely exquisite in its perfect detail (watching the kids try to catch the butterflies in their hands as we watched the movie in 3D was a special highlight). The monarchs have an amazing ability to navigate, using their antennae, the small hairs on their head and the sensors on their feet to adjust their path - an ability which rivals our own human GPS. Somehow, millions of butterflies all navigate their way 1000s of kilometres south each year, to the same mountain wilderness high in the hills of central Mexico.

"Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely" (UN, May 2019)

As i watched these beautiful creatures gather in the trees (check out the short clip I included in this blog above), I was horrified at the thought that under our current US and Australian Governments such wilderness areas are under imminent threat. Our Government scoffs at calls to protect insects, flora and fauna, preferencing the economic imperatives of loggers, miner and other extractive industries over the literal wonders of the natural world.

We still have so little understanding of the complex natural ecosystems that surround us, and yet we are so willing to disregard and destroy them. In May 2019, the United Nations released an

Extinction Report

which baldly states that "Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely".

In the film, Dr Urquhart and his team find the butterflies congregated in enormous flocks high up in the trees, after literally decades of searching. The area is now a UNESCO World Heritage protected site, but what if the Mexican Government had approved logging of those forests before we had found the monarchs? Would we have causes catastrophic damage to the ecosystem of these beautiful creatures? Would their potential demise have had unforeseen consequences on other wildlife chains?

I was struck by the arrogance of human beings, that we have so dominated the natural environment in which we live, to the detriment of so many creatures around us. I was reminded of the movie Independence Day, and struck by the idea that in the scheme of that movie, we humans are the alien life form that exploited the natural resources of the planet we colonised and decimated all life forms as subordinate to our own. Is this who we want to be? Is this really what we think is best for our planet - and for our children?

Why can we not protect nature, for nature's sake? I'm not a hippie, but I respect that the natural world in which we live is one that has prospered only when there has been balance. Each member of the food chain has to show respect for those above and below. We have stopped doing that. We trawl the sea as if the reserves of fish are infinite; we log trees as if the forest ecosystems in which they exist will simply bounce back; we pollute our air and waterways with no thought of how reliant we as humans are on those basic natural elements. We need to STOP - look around, take a breath and reconsider whether this really is the legacy we want to leave for the coming generations.

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