By studying polar bears, Olivia Rechert is learning about conversation.
Seventeen-year-old Olivia Reckert’s love for animals isn’t the kind that’s easily satisfied by caring for a cute puppy or kitten. While in middle school, she became interested in helping animals that struggle to survive in threatened habitats.
What sparked her interest was meeting Dr. Jane Goodall in connection with a school project, and traveling to the Virgin Islands, where she swam among rainbow fish and stingrays. Those experiences fueled her desire to protect habitats for vulnerable species.
Now a junior at St. George’s Independent School, Olivia is equipped to do more than simply dream about change. In October, she traveled to the Hudson Bay area of Manitoba, Canada, to participate in Polar Bear International Teen Leadership Camp. While there, Olivia learned about the effects of climate change on polar bears in the subarctic region. The polar bear is the first species under the Endangered Species Act to be designated as threatened due to global warming.
Olivia made the most of her opportunity with scientists and zoologists. Now, as the 2011 Arctic Ambassador for Polar Bears International, she is working to promote conservations at home. “You have to speak up if you want to help these bears,” she says. “Our biggest challenge is getting people more excited and passionate. You have to share the message in a friendly, not annoying, way. There are so many little things you can do.”
The Hudson Bay area is one of the southernmost regions to support polar bears. However, the bear population there has decreased 22 percent since the mid-1990s. With sea ice shrinking due to global warming and CO2 emissions, polar bears are having a more difficult time hunting for food. These huge animals rely on seals as their main food source and sea ice provides access to the seals. Polar bears also eat kelp, but the plant doesn’t provide adequate sustenance. Currently, about 60 percent of the world’s polar bears live in Canada. Biologists estimate between 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears exist worldwide.
Before heading to camp, Olivia read up on climate change. Once there, she joined a group of 15 teens from the U.S. and Canada. Together, they rode in a tundra buggy to observe polar bears, arctic foxes, ptarmigan birds, and rabbits. Still, she wasn’t prepared for what she found: Thin, lethargic polar bears waiting for ice to form on the Hudson Bay. “There was no sign of snow or ice,” she notes. “Ice formation on the Hudson Bay is getting later every year.” So conservation means doing things to lower CO2 gases. “It starts with protecting the polar bears because they are directly affected by our excess CO2 gases. If we protect them, we’re protecting the environment and all the other creatures out there.”
Bringing the message home
Once home from camp, Olivia went to work with her school’s Knitting Club, making blankets and scarves for senior citizens (to encourage lower thermostat settings). Other ideas include helping businesses conduct CO2 energy audits, hosting bake sales to earn money to plant trees, and asking energy companies to match funds to provide energy-efficient light bulbs for public facilities.
Next year, she’ll appear at the Memphis Zoo on February 27th, for International Polar Bear Day. The zoo is a PBI Arctic Ambassador Center and Olivia is the fourth student from Memphis to participate.
Olivia often finds opportunities to study animals while vacationing with her mother Carrie, dad Anthony, and brother Kyle. She knows change will come with each new light bulb, planted tree, and informed voice. She plans to study international business and hopes to earn a master’s degree in conservation and sustainable energy. “I hope to bring my experiences to my college and impact a group of new people.”
Olivia is eager to share her information with students at area schools. To invite her to speak at your school, contact Julene Reed, director of Tundra Connections for PBI Advisory Council, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are You Passionate About Polar Bears?
Students ages 14 to 17 are invited to participate in the Project Polar Bear contest. Winners attend PBI’s Teen Leadership Camp. To learn more about the contest, go to polarbearsinternational.org.
The Real Scoop
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