One would think that Israel has enough internal problems and external enemies that its academics that they have no time to worry about crises in other parts of the globe. But not Prof. Uri Shamas, a senior lecturer in the department of biology and environment in the University of Haifa’s faculty of natural sciences, and Tel Aviv University Prof. Alon Tal, chairman of Tel Aviv University’s department of public policy and co-founder of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.
Born in Beersheba in 1961, Shamas established four years ago a voluntary organization named TiME (This is My Earth) that raises money to purchase areas around the world where species at risk live and turn the land into nature reserves. Tal, chairman of the department of public policy, holds degrees in environmental policy, law and economics. In recent years, his research has focused both on water policy challenges and the interface between technology and water quality.
TiME (at https://this-is-my-earth.org) took advantage of the rise in popularity of altruistic crowdfunding together with increasing Internet access around the world to establish a group in which even small donors could take an active role. Its first achievement was raising $35,000 on Indiegogo from 819 people living in over 40 countries. The seed money was used to register as a non-profit organization, establish a basic infrastructure, choose a scientific advisory committee and build a website and an active Facebook page. Today, there are over 5,000 members.
In its second year, TiME had over one thousand affiliates who enabled the organization to buy a section of land in Peru’s Andes mountain’s to save the woolly monkey, which has been endangered since 2008 because the it suffered a 50% decrease in population over the past 45 years due to deforestation and hunting. Shamas explained that only a very small amount of Earth constitutes “hot spots” that are home to very rich biodiversity but where the flora and fauna face extinction. Therefore, protecting these small areas can greatly contribute to the preservation of these species. Tropical rainforests disappear at a rate of 5,400 square meters per second, he stressed.
TiME is an international democratic organization where anyone at any age can contribute anything, from a dollar onward. Every member is entitled to a single annual vote – regardless of the amount of money that he or she has donated or collected. Every year, the members choose among three possible lands to buy, each containing endangered wildlife. A scientific advisory committee does the research and recommends the three areas most in need, and a board of directors oversees operations.
At the end of the year, TiME allocates the sum of donations according to the relative number of votes each project earned. By providing a full democracy among its members, TiME becomes a tool for promoting democratic principles around the world.
All lands acquired by TiME are given to indigenous peoples working in collaboration with local conservation organizations to protect the land. This year, TiME will buy 20 acres of corals at the Turneffe Atoll, off the coasts of Belize, that will not remain under its control but will be transferred to Turneffe Atoll Trust and may not be used to develop tourism services.
In 2017, TiME bought land to expand the Sun Angel’s Gardens reserve in Peru. The reserve’s biodiversity, including the Endangered Royal Sunangel hummingbird (Heliangelus regalis) and the endangered white-bellied spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth), was particularly vulnerable to illegal loggers, hunters and squatters because of its horseshoe shape. TiME’s purchase of 700 hectares inside the U-shape of the reserve was transferred to the local indigenous community of La Primavera and the local non-profit organization, the Asociación Neotropical Primate Conservation Peru.
“We have proven that this technique, at first seen as naive, works and can change reality,” said Shamas. “In Israel, besides the countless of educational institutes that ‘adopted’ us, we managed to attract private companies and Israeli municipalities, which allows people to feel the satisfaction in taking part in saving the Earth. In today’s world, awareness of the need to protect the planet is growing, mainly because they are beginning to feel the consequences of the damage we have caused. It’s a positive trend, but those who really care about the environment and the world need to do a lot more to demonstrate or just scream.”
Teachers can use its information to explain to their pupils concepts such as habitat destruction, extinction, biodiversity hotspots and wildlife management. Classes of all ages and levels can use TiME to discuss decisionmaking, prioritization and practical ways to protect wildlife.
This year, 350 acres of tropical forests in Colombia will be purchased, to rescue the brown spider, Magdalena turtle, white tamarin, Colombian mahogany tree and other species. Of the total animal and plant population in Colombia, 20% of the birds, rodents and primates (monkeys), 33% of bats, 4% of ferns and climbing plants and 6% of the amphibian population are found in the chosen region.
The forest, however, faces a danger of grazing in favor of pastures. According to researchers’ estimates from 2010, if the current deforestation rate continues, the entire forest may disappear within five years. When there is nothing to stop the humidity and rainwater, damage to the environment grows like a snowball and the region’s whole ecology cannot be saved, Shamas concluded.