Coastal Carolina students in Robert Johnson’s Apex Predators class are making a difference and raising money to conserve land that is halfway around the world.
At the beginning of the semester, Johnson gave his students a choice.
“This fundraiser was something I came up with and asked my students if they were interested,” said Johnson. “A lot of the work I do is international conservation, and I was just in Sumatra back in December and I came up with the idea while I was over there. After discussing it with the people I worked with over in Sumatra, I brought up to my students.”
The offer was pretty much this – either write a 20-page paper about an apex predator or do a project that is not only talking about conservation but actually doing good in the world.
“Everyone was going to have to participate, and there was going to be heavy work involved,” said Johnson.
Jess Myers, a junior marine science major and a member of Johnson’s class, immediately was on board.
“Not writing a twenty-page paper is definitely awesome but being able to make a difference was great,” said Myers. “As a marine science major and being involved in a lot of organizations and clubs, I am already bogged down by a lot of work, and I am always trying to find ways to do educational outreach because I want to work in the environment field when I graduate. So, when that educational outreach is incorporated into the class, it creates a perfect situation.”
The students in Johnson’s class are raising money to help save tigers and orangutans in the Leuser ecosystem of Sumatra.
Leuser is considered one of the world's few "biological hotspots." This is the only place in the world that is home to tigers, orangutans, rhinos, elephants and bears. A primary threat to these animals is the diminishing habitats, primarily due to the expansion of palm oil plantations. Many small farms bordering this national forest have existed in relative harmony with the environment for as many as 100 years. These farms grew native fruits and plants, and the farms were still inhabitable by much of the native wildlife.
Myers talked about what the goal was for the fundraiser.
“The goal was to raised $1,500,” said Myers. “Essentially, $600 is equal to one acre of land and $1,500 is the equivalent of one hectare.”
Johnson said that, while the goal was to raise enough money for one hectare of land, there really was no limit to how much his students could raise.
“There are very key areas that we are trying to purchase,” said Johnson. “It is not that we are just going out and buying land at random. It is just that in the Leuser ecosystem, rivers are the main way in and out of that area. It is the only way you can access the forest. Along the riverbeds are small farms that are privately owned by people who have passed down the land generation after generation. These farms grew native fruits and plants and animals lived there but, when palm oil was introduced, nothing ever grows now and there has been a decrease in wildlife.”
Johnson says that the plan is to purchase areas of land that are key to the ecosystem in hopes of converting them back into a viable habitat.
The fundraiser will end in May once classes are over due to the fact that the fundraiser was tied to the class. However, Johnson says that there is a high chance that the fundraiser will be brought back.
“This was kind of like a test run,” said Johnson. “We might look into doing the same thing next year."