Remember Martha, the last of her kind, who died on this day a century ago. September 1st marks the extinction of the passenger pigeon, a species of North American bird with incomparable population numbers before they were completely eradicated by humans at the beginning of the 20th century.
3.7 billion to 0 in forty years.
And if you are wishing this wouldn’t happen again, hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself - remember that we are currently enduring the sixth major mass extinction event. While the other five in our earth’s history were naturally caused by everything from major meteoritic impacts, to extreme cooling or warming of the environment, and frequently changing atmosphere - the latest event, Number Six, is being completely attributed to humans. This is the Holocene Extinction.
In 2012 the IUCN reported that 30% of amphibians are at risk of extinction; as well as 21% of mammals, reptiles, and fish, 12% of birds, 68% of plants. We are looking to lose 30-50% of all species of life on our planet by the middle of the century.
This may feel like a hopeless inevitability, but the future is not set in stone. What we need for this cause is awareness. What we need is an investment of personal interest. We need voices, and students, and teachers. We need scientists, and law makers, and committees and new legislation for the environment. We need communicators. We need enthusiasts and what we really need is to ruin apathy. This is a shared planet, not just between ourselves but with every miraculous piece of life that has erupted on its unlikely surface in the last billion years. We owe it to that great improbability not to mess this up.
"Right now, in almost every river in the world, some 12,000 different species of caddisfly larvae wriggle and crawl through sediment, twigs, and rocks in an attempt to build temporary aquatic cocoons. To do this, the small, slow-moving creatures excrete silk from salivary glands near their mouths which they use like mortar to stick together almost every available material into a cozy tube. A few weeks later a fully developed caddisfly emerges and almost immediately flies away."
Since the 1980s Duprat has been collecting caddisfly larvae from their normal environments and transporting them to aquariums in his studio. There he gently removes their own natural cocoons and puts the larvae in tanks filled with materials such as pearls, beads, opals, turquoise and pieces of 18-karat gold. The insects still do exactly what comes naturally to them, but in doing so they create exquisite gilded sculptures that they temporarily call home. If you saw them out of context, you’d never guess they’d been created insects.
On rare years when the conditions are right in the arid landscape of the Badlands, in the American West, wildflowers burst into a display of colour for just a few days.
The vegetation in the region has adapted to the climate, with just a small amount of moisture the desert can become coloured with sweeping fields of Scorpion Weed, Beeplant and the flowers of the Pincushion Cacti. These blooms can be very short-lived to conserve moisture.
Photographs by Guy Tal
"… is it not possible—I often wonder—that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them?"
Virginia Woolf, from “A Sketch of the Past,” in Moments of Being (Harvest Books, 1985)