World-renowned naturalist/conservationist Jeff Corwin, known for his TV and documentary work with Animal Planet and Disney Channel among many other endeavors within the wildlife world, stopped by Alumni Hall Friday night for the semester finale of SPA’s loaded Distinguished Speakers Series.
Corwin discussed the perils facing our planet’s endangered species, but also shed light on some positive developments the past few years in helping to save many animals and their habitats from extinction, allowing them to flourish once more and hopefully reduce the current rate of two global species going extinct per hour. Corwin said that college students, even in their “surrogate home” have the opportunity to be stewards for wildlife.
“I don’t know if it’s about raising awareness or being aware. I think the most important thing one could do, especially in a university environment; I mean, this is your home for four years, or five, or six, depending on how motivated you are,” Corwin said with a chuckle. “There are stories of nature and ecology and wildlife happening all around you.”
Corwin flashed his trademark witty sense of humor throughout his lecture, engaging the large turnout of students with funny or touching stories from his time exploring our vast and beautiful planet. He’s currently working with the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Harrisburg, Pa., on a multi-faceted project entitled “Expedition Chesapeake” which will feature a movie, among other educational programs, concerned with the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
While global warming and outbreaks of disease have undoubtedly devastated countless species on Earth, there have also been many celebratory moments of late stemming from the hard work by Corwin and his conservationist colleagues, as well as everyday citizens.
“It’s not so long ago, in this very state, there were very few whitetail deer, there were no wild turkeys — just a few — they were protected, you couldn’t hunt them. And now we see these species have come back, we know we can recover things,” Corwin said.
But it’s not just Pennsylvania — Corwin noted improvements all around the country.
“The Charles River in Massachusetts is cleaner now than it has been in a century. Otters are back, and beavers are back, and seals have shown up, which is exciting,” Corwin said. “You know how many billions of dollars it cost to clean that river. Isn’t it better to manage and conserve than having to go back and restore?”
The Norwell, Mass., native and current host of ABC’s “Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin” also touched on his “aha” moment at age six when he decided that a life spent in nature was tailor made for him. Corwin came across a garter snake in his grandparents’ backyard and named her Gladys, falling in love with the reptile at first sight. However, a misguided neighbor felt threatened and chopped the snake’s head off with a shovel, much to Corwin’s dismay. It was right then that he decided to spend his life working to educate people about our planet’s many animals, including his beloved elephants.
Corwin also highlighted the struggle to save bats and bees, two of our country’s most vital species in terms of pest management and pollination, as prime examples for why everyone should pay attention to the changing world around them. However, this nation’s bald eagle population has exploded from a paltry 600 a few decades ago to roughly 20,000 strong today.
“When you look out in the Universe, there’s nothing like this. There’s lot of planets, there’s planets with gas, all these moons; there’s nothing that is a giant ball of rock with an onion-skin thin layer of life all around it,” Corwin said.
“In the end, if we wanna save species, and we wanna teach people to save species — it’s hard to love something that you don’t know, and if you don’t love it, you won’t save it.”
SPA’s Distinguished Speaker Series did not disappoint this year, including sold-out talks from big names like Bill Nye and Abby Wambach as well as multiple smaller yet incredibly interesting and informational lectures and discussions.