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Pitching at the Dutch World Wide Fund for Nature's volunteer day

Updated: Apr 13

Past Saturday, I pitched the expedition and fundraiser to 70 WWF volunteers from the Netherlands. My pitch was part of a presentation on European nature developments. WWF is increasingly restoring nature in East Europe, which includes the Danube basin. It is the last region in Europe with vast forests and free-flowing rivers, which WWF intends to keep that way. However, some measures taken to pursue socio-economic development, such as land conversion for agriculture and dam-building for hydro-energy, mean these habitats are decreasing in quantity and quality. The challenge is to balance socio-economic with environmental priorities and preserve untouched natural areas. No easy feat.

So, let's focus on the sturgeon for now. My approach to the expedition follows the concept of ''societal extinction'' (Jaric et al., 2022). In short, that entails that biological extinctions cause or are preceded by the loss of collective knowledge of a species and cultural connections with it. I believe that is certainly the case with the sturgeon. Throughout the world, sturgeons are the subject of art, folklore, literature, religion and culinary tradition. As populations decreased in number, these connections were lost. At present, I bet many of us would not know what a sturgeon is, or that they were once present in the rivers nearby. Therefore, part of the rewilding efforts that are being undertaken is exploring and re-building societal awareness, collective knowledge and cultural connections.

See those dolls in the corner? As toddlers, we grow up with certain representations of nature that dominantly feature species outside Europe. While our gaze is fixed elsewhere, we lose sight of what is in our backyard. We distinguish easily between lions and leopards, but can we tell the difference between six sturgeon species in the Danube? To illustrate the peril all 28 sturgeon species are in, I sometimes use the analogy of all 42 feline species going extinct. The world would rebel. Now, that is the issue. We need to ask ourselves what would happen if raise the new generation with a sturgeon doll?

As the expedition nears its start, I recognize the need to ask for help. I look no further than the great WWF volunteers who spread the world of hope. Volunteers go to great lengths to educate children at primary and secondary schools about nature and WWF. Engaging them was the key challenge this Saturday, and boy did it succeed. Many enthusiastic volunteers approached and offered their help during the next challenging months. Some of them have been active as WWF volunteers for over 40 years, others for just a few months. This diversity gives me great inspiration to engage audiences in all age groups. They also help with various tasks, including brainstorming and communication. Together, we are developing a lesson on sturgeons so that volunteers can reach the hearts of children.

I believe I am here today because some other person once touched mine when I was a child.

Can we do the same? Can we bring the sturgeons back by bringing them to the classroom?

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