Dear EarthTalk: I heard of an effort to save what are being called “BioGems.” What are BioGems and what is being done about them?
— Larry Dibner, Tallahassee, FL
“BioGems,” a term created by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), describe the most endangered natural treasures around the Americas. NRDC selects special places in our hemisphere that face an imminent threat of destruction, from pristine coastlines that could become industrial ports to ancient forests that could be stripped of trees to unspoiled wildlife habitats that could be sacrificed to oil and gas drilling. “Our imperiled BioGems are irreplaceable remnants of wilderness that curb global warming, preserve biodiversity and provide sanctuary for rare and extraordinary wildlife, from threatened polar bears to endangered gray whales,” reports NRDC.
NRDC launched its BioGems Initiative back in 2001 as a way to harness the power of online citizen activism to help save threatened lands. The group mobilizes its 1.3 million members and online activists “to bring overwhelming pressure to bear on governments and companies bent on industrializing the world’s last wild places.”
Never afraid of a little attention, NRDC has enlisted the help of several celebrity partners in championing the cause of saving the BioGems. Robert Redford is spearheading NRDC’s campaign to keep the Polar Bear Seas safe from oil drilling, while Pierce Brosnan is leading the charge to try to bring an end to the commercial slaughter of whales. The group has also brought the star power of Leonardo Di Caprio, Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin, Seth Myers, Jason Mraz and others to bear for the sake of saving BioGems.
“Together, BioGems Defenders and our local partners on the ground have scored dozens of historic victories for the environment, proving that individuals can be a powerful force for conservation,” reports NRDC. Some of the campaign’s recent successes include: helping to persuade Iceland to call off its fin whale hunt for the second year in a row; protecting the last 340 beluga whales of Alaska’s Cook Inlet through filing a lawsuit; helping secure a breakthrough agreement for wild buffalo that allows them to roam outside Yellowstone National Park during the harsh winter months; and winning in court over trophy hunters keen on stripping the polar bear from its endangered status.
Currently NRDC is focusing on a half dozen primary BioGems campaigns: keeping Shell out of the American Arctic (unfortunately the company’s drills just went in); stopping Big Oil’s attack on whales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet and up and down the Atlantic seaboard; stopping the pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to Texas refineries (Obama has kyboshed the pipeline for now); stopping the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska; and saving British Columbia’s Spirit Bear coast.
Individuals can get involved by customizing and sending pre-written e-mail messages to decision makers who are key to the particular locales in need of protection. NRDC will also gladly take donations of any size toward the BioGem campaign of the giver’s choosing. Of course, telling your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members what you have learned about the potential despoliation of natural treasures, many in our own backyard, is also a big help.