U.S. greatly lags in signing U.N. Biodiversity Convention

Actor Edward Norton is UN goodwill ambassador for biodiversity. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Excellent article by Edward Norton in yesterday’s http://www.guardian.co.uk.  This is the U.N. International Year of Biodiversity and Norton writes that “For the first time at the UN, heads of state and government and officials from its 192-member states will hold a meeting exclusively devoted to the biodiversity crisis.”  Norton says that at a gathering on September 22, “world leaders will call for the introduction of sustainable practices in land and resource use, an increase in protected areas around the world, and for plans to reconcile development with conservation.”

This thrills me after nearly 20 years of working with partners to get the Great Lakes islands’  biodiversity information in place such that it can be considered and protected in perpetuity.  As the world’s largest collection of freshwater islands, Great Lakes islands are globally rare and their biological diversity is of global importance.  See the excellent recent article by Tom Meersman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that captures the work and partnerships and importance of these islands.

This pending set of commitments also ties in to findings from my dissertation research.  I conducted confidential interviews with very successful real estate developers and several land-use planners, and deeply studied the practice of development in the United States.  I wanted to walk in the shoes of developers with an eye toward finding commonalities as a basis to work together to conserve biological diversity.

My research showed that nature is pretty much invisible not only to developers, but to our entire culture and way of life.  We post signs that read “vacant land” and local planning discussions don’t consider the variety of plants, animals, and birds who already make that land their home.  Among other things, I concluded that financial incentives and regulations need to change because developers are businessmen (and I do mean “businessmen” for I found women rarely are developers and I didn’t find any in Michigan).  Developers must make money, of course, as must we all.

I was surprised to learn that developers find their work so engaging, creative, and challenging.  I was pleased to hear them talk about following federal regulations that protect endangered species and wetlands.  One developer–who spent nearly four hours with me–consults the Michigan Natural Features inventory before he will purchase land, and will go ahead with a project if he believes he can protect the habitat of an endangered species.  This developer even got into this line of work because he loves to be outdoors.

I remain hopeful yet more fully aware of the vast work ahead if we are to protect the variety of life on Earth.  Let’s all urge our political leaders to get the U.S. to sign on to the Convention of Biological Diversity and then implement it.  The Convention opened for signatures on 5 June 1992, and 18 years is long enough for the U.S. to sidestep our international and moral responsibility to conserve the world’s biological diversity.

Wonderful Detroit Free Press multi-media report on Belle Isle (Detroit River)

I grew up exploring the wonders of this Detroit River island.  I walked; swam; rode horses and later bicycles; watched the tiny wild white deer (penned up the last time I was there); enjoyed the children’s zoo (closed in 2002), conservatory, and aquarium; watched synchronized swimming; toured Dossin Great Lakes Museum; picnicked; and imagined dancing in the 1930s.   I learned of this special report by Detroit Free Press reporters Gina Damron and Brian Kaufman today while reading Great Lakes Echo.  The Echo offers terrific reporting on Great Lakes issues and I check it daily.  Click here to enjoy video, photographs, and other links and resources about the lovely Belle Isle.  It’s fantastic!  The reporters spent a year creating this treasure so make sure you watch to the very, very end to see what they went through to complete the project.

You can help support some of the remaining treasures of this island through the Friends of Belle IsleFriends of Belle Isle Aquarium, Friends of Belle Isle Marsh, Belle Isle Botanical Society, and Dossin Great Lakes Museum.  I will be adding links to these and many other island nonprofit organizations as I can learn of them.  Check out the new page above, “NGOs”.

Gathering on Beaver Island August 28-30, 2010

Peter Annin, journalist and author of the 2006 book Great Lakes Water Wars, has organized a marvelous long weekend for top journalists on Beaver Island.  I’ll be joining colleagues from all five Great Lakes this Saturday to help journalists experience the very special Beaver Archipelago and learn more about the special characteristics and vulnerabilities of the islands of the Great Lakes.  Beaver Island is #10 on the list of most threatened Great Lakes islands in the brand-new Islands of Life report by Henson, Kraus, McMurtry, & Ewert (July 26, 2010).  Beaver Archipelago includes ten islands with ownership in the hands of many.

I will post highlights from our adventures this weekend and perhaps really get this blog going.


This evening we are kicking of the blog of the Great Lakes Islands Network.  We will be moving images and resources from a decade-old website to here very soon.  In the meantime, stay tuned as we develop this blog as a way to foster a network of people dedicated to conserving the 31, 407 islands of the Great Lakes!