Jeff Corwin speaks about the dangers of extinction

Jeff Corwin entertained Monroe while delivering an important message.

Corwin, a wildlife, ecology and conservation expert and a new science and environmental correspondent for NBC, presented his message on saving endangered species in the Meyer Theater Friday night.

“Thank you all for giving up your Friday night to be with me,” he joked.

The presentation began with a short video introducing Corwin and the message he intended to spread. The audience laughed as humorous clips from Animal Planet’s “The Jeff Corwin Experience” appeared on the screen.

Corwin had attended the River Raisin Heritage Trail’s ribbon cutting ceremony Friday afternoon, and expressed his happiness at being present for the event.

“It was really wonderful to be able to tour this incredible resource that is in your backyard, that you get to be stewards of,” he said.

“I thought just how lucky you are to have that, and of course luck had nothing to do with it. It took a tremendous amount of resources and will, rehabilitation and restoration.”

Corwin said the greenways trail allowed various habitats to connect, and allowed species to reproduce.

His message took on a more serious tone as he told the audience of his recent experiences in the Gulf of Mexico, where the BP oil spill occurred.

“For the last six weeks I’ve been imbedded in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

Corwin recounted his work experiences on Queen Bess Island, home to 3,000 Brown Pelicans as well as several other birds that were affected by the oil. The island is one of the many hundreds of barrier islands that wrap around the Gulf coastline, Corwin said.

The Brown Pelicans living on the island, which are Louisiana’s state bird, were restored from near extinction caused by DDT, and today there are 50,000 of the species. Today, because of the oil spill, they are being harmed once again.

“It could quite literally be the greasy straw that breaks the plumage that makes up these incredible birds,” Corwin said.

“We go to this island that we know is so important, and you see how devastated it has been by the oil, and you see the birds literally consumed by oil. You think the bird is dead, then you see its beak open up and it’s gasping for life, and you think, ‘That’s the end. This is it for this bird.'”

Corwin still believes there is hope for all the species affected.

“Like you have proven in Monroe, nature is resilient,” he said.

Corwin spoke of his efforts to help the oil-covered pelicans. Workers wearing chemical suits in the 100 degree weather marinate the birds in a solution, and then it continues down a wash line until it looks like a pelican again, Corwin said.

“It’s a battle to save one of our country’s most precious and important environments,” Corwin said.

The pelicans are then flown to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, where they are freed.

“I always think everything I do with animals is like an alien abduction,” he joked, stating how he thought the animals he saved felt.

Corwin then spoke to the audience about habitat loss as a result of climate change, pollution, and species exploitation—all fueled by humans.

He used the example of the Island of Sumatra in Indonesia, which holds a vast rainforest. While only 5 percent of the planet is made up of rainforests, 60 percent of all life resides in rainforests, and humans harvest 40 percent of our medicines from rainforests, Corwin said.

The problem is that rainforests are cut down at an alarming rate. Globally, about 3,000 acres of rainforest are lost every hour, Corwin said.

“That’s a mass of trees, plants, and animals the size of the United Kingdom,” he said.

Rainforests being cut down contribute to climate change because 70 billion tons of the planet’s carbon is locked up in the rainforest, and it is lifted into the atmosphere when they are cut down. Greenhouse gases in the air hold ambient heat in, which radiates down to our planet, Corwin said.

As a result, seas raise, icebergs melt, and temperatures change at a much faster rate than predicted, Corwin said. He also mentioned that wildlife is exposed and habitats are lost when rainforests are cut down.

“We now know that we are about nine and a half years from all forests being gone in Sumatra,” he said.

An example of how we are all a part of the issue is our usage of palm oil, which is used in everything from lipstick to ice cream.

Corwin then told the audience the story of how he got where he is today, and why the issues he spoke about were so important to him.

Corwin believes the day he became a naturalist, an interpreter of the natural world, was when he had his first discovery of a snake as a 6-year-old in his grandparent’s backyard.

“That snake really set me on my journey,” he said.

When he was about 8 years old, he discovered a snake was split in half by a concerned neighbor who was afraid of it harming Corwin.

“I realized that good people make bad decisions out of ignorance, out of not having knowledge,” he said. “Maybe good people make bad decisions when they drill into the bottom of the ocean without having a backup plan.”

“I realized people needed information,” he said. “That’s when I became a conservationist.”

Corwin recounted some fond and scary stories of his experiences with elephants, which he says is an animal that has been with him throughout his life. He is reminded of his experiences with young elephants today by his experiences with his children.

“I became a conservationist because I loved and was fascinated by animals, and had concern about their future of life on this planet,” he said. “I now realize that I was a conservationist because of the fear and the terror that I felt about the world my children would inherit.”

Corwin has witnessed extinction, and although we lose a species every 20 minutes, he knows there is hope for the future.

“The question is, is there hope? There is hope. Look to Monroe. Look to your backyard,” he said. “Until this is fixed, we are entering into some very dark days.”

After the presentation, Corwin took 10 questions from the audience. A meet-and-greet after the show had to be cancelled because Corwin had to catch a 9:40 p.m. flight back home.

“To the airport!” A Corwin fan yelled as the announcement was made.