Written by Jordan Gledhill
Ask a conservationist why they work in conservation and most will tell you it is because they care. We care for the natural world and we care that in most cases, it is being destroyed. Yes, we get to enjoy ourselves traveling the world, working in tropical jungles, diving on coral reefs and climbing mountains with our binoculars. But that is not why I got into conservation, I did it because I care.
I was lucky enough to be bought up in Bournemouth, a small town on the South coast of England. I spent a lot of my youth, and still today, exploring the coastline, spotting wading birds on the marshes and searching for reptiles and deer in the wonderful New Forest National Park. This system of natural treasures is a true treat, but there are hidden questions that can’t be shaken, is this how it should be? Are these areas truly wild and are we seeing nature at its purest?
Yes, these small patches of forest and heathland are beautiful. But there was always a sense of longing and wonder, what would it be like if nature was left to be nature?
As soon as I left college I made it my mission to experience the full splendour of nature, nature how it should be, untouched and left to its own doing. I travelled to South Africa and volunteered on a game reserve, I learnt how to dive in Honduras on beautiful coral reefs, I worked in rescue centres in Vietnam. I travelled the world, seeking out nature reserves and national parks, ticking species off my wish-list.
Eventually I landed my ‘dream’ job. I was managing a sea turtle conservation project in Malaysia. I had the time of my life, spending my days diving, counting fish and planting coral. My evenings were spent wondering the beaches and helping to protect the eggs of endangered sea turtles. I even met my girlfriend, a turtle loving conservation hero. Life was good.
But after a while frustration grew as the questions started to be raised again. Is this how it should be? Are these areas truly wild and are we seeing nature at its purest? Yes, the island was beautiful, watching the life on the reefs was better than any Oscar winning movie. But it wasn’t how it should be.
This is the curse of a caring conservationist. For holiday makers, these tropical areas are a wonderland. For conservationists it is hard to look past the encroaching destruction. Palm oil plantations on the edge of national parks, baron areas of rubble surrounding patches of coral and turtles nesting on plastic filled beaches. For many, living in a bubble of acceptance allows us to enjoy what we see, for conservationists, it’s hard to accept living in such a bubble.
Soon my ‘dream’ job became a job of frustration. Watching tourists walk on the coral I worked hard to protect, shouting at fishermen throwing their nets in the marine protected area and despairing as locals litter the beaches where turtles used to nest on mass. It became increasingly difficult to convince volunteers that there was hope and that conservation work truly did matter.
When you reach this wall in conservation there are two options. Firstly, you can wallow in self-pity that your research and work is futile and continue to be angry with people’s wrong doings. Alternatively, you can use this despair as motivation and make it your goal to show people that they too must burst their bubble of acceptance.
As our world’s governments and mega corporations continue to make profit from the destruction of our planet, can individuals make a difference?
We can, and we are increasingly seeing this as we enter 2021. More than ever people are waking up and bursting their bubble. Climate change is now a readily talked about topic, veganism isn’t seen as the devils work and slowly retailers are starting to see small changes in consumerism and choosing to create more sustainable products.
To make the big changes necessary to protect our natural world, we need everyone. Those working in conservation cannot do it alone, and nor should it be our responsibility. We must be the catalysts in the movement of universal change.
It is important that we take pride in the fact that we care, not feel burdened and isolated by our missions of hope. We should utilise our knowledge and experiences to inspire those who are still in their bubbles. It is not their fault, we shouldn’t be angry with them for not knowing. We must shift our baseline of acceptance and move towards a new, more sustainable ‘normal’.
The beautiful thing is, anybody can be a conservation advocate. There is no need to have studied at university or travelled the world. All you need is a willingness to care about the world around you and for those future generations who will inherit it. As long as we continue to spread the word and lead by example, then we can help burst the bubble of acceptance.
For more of Jordan, check out @oneplanetconservationawareness on Instagram