Hope soars

Sure enough, as it swooped down over the car and out over Cootes Paradise, a wetland off Hamilton Harbour, I could see the white head and tail – a rare Bald Eagle. Long an endangered species in eastern North America, Bald Eagles are slowly, steadily rebounding, leaving endangered status behind.

© J.D. Taylor/WWF-Canada
The timing couldn’t have been better. I was headed to Hamilton’s Westdale Secondary School to speak to four classes on marine conservation. The classes had watched The End Of The Line, a top-notch documentary film on overfishing in the Seven Seas. I was speaking alongside Paul Uys, VP for Sustainable Seafood at Loblaw, Canada’s largest food retailer. Loblaw has made a world-beating commitment to convert to sustainable sources all the farmed and wild-caught seafood it sells across Canada – and do this, with advice from WWF, by 2013. Wild-caught fish and shellfish are being certified to the better fishing standards of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Among other activities, high school visits have been part of a joint WWF-Loblaw outreach program to promote sustainable seafood. We emphasize the positive steps consumers can take to help sustain ocean health while maintaining a healthy, tasty food source.
One of the challenges of speaking about environmental issues, especially to young people, is the risk of being so bleak about species declines and ecosystem collapse that the audience turns off, feeling there is no hope. WWF-Canada president emeritus, Monte Hummel, once quipped: “Environmentalists can be depressing on any topic – and usually are!” Monte makes a good point. Of course, we must detail the realities of over-harvests, pollution and loss of wilderness. But we must also offer hope. Most environmentalists, myself included, are optimists by nature. Otherwise, we would have burned out or quit years ago. We have seen that change in human behaviour is possible, and that species and habitats, given a chance, can recover.
That’s where the Bald Eagle sighting comes in. The students learned that creating marine protected areas, stemming pollution by not pouring toxic chemicals down the sink, and choosing to buy MSC-certified seafood are all constructive steps to help solve the marine conservation crisis. They can act today and make a difference tomorrow. And the eagle, soaring a few blocks from their urban school yard, absent for half a century, is elegant proof that conservation action we take today eventually brings wildlife results we can see.
Hope soars.