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Audubon and Toyota Team Up to Empower People to Take Action to Restore Habitats

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What do the National Audubon Society and Toyota have in common? A commitment to the environmental health of our world, through empowering conservation leaders to restore habitats and communities across the nation.

Toyota TogetherGreen has invested $25.4 million in community-based conservation efforts and engaged more than 475,000 people in more than 300 cities and all 50 states. Photo credit: Toyota TogetherGreen

Eight years ago, Audubon and Toyota teamed up for a joint conservation initiative, Toyota TogetherGreen by Audubon. Since 2008, the program has invested $25.4 million in community-based conservation efforts and engaged more than 475,000 people in more than 300 cities and all 50 states. The program has helped more than 695 environmental leaders who worked with communities to improve 36,422 acres of habitat, conserve 15.75 million gallons of water and log $11.9 million worth of volunteer time. Toyota TogetherGreen fellows and grantees have partnered with more than 3,000 organizations across the country—from Native American tribes to schools to corporations—and have leveraged their funding to raise an additional $12.3 million to support conservation.

Across hundreds of communities, the program has helped hundreds of thousands of people take conservation action. From supporting a congregation that hosts organic farmers markets for residents with little access to healthy food, to helping veterans healing war wounds through ecological restoration, Toyota TogetherGreen fellows and grantees have tackled tough problems with creativity and originality, through a diverse array of perspectives.

Last year, in the final year of the initiative, the program gave out new awards totaling $765,000 to 39 innovative and diverse conservation projects nationwide.

John Connors, in Raleigh, North Carolina, has just completed building a 30-foot roost tower for declining Chimney Swifts in collaboration with the Wake Audubon Society and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. As part of the project, the team hosted a weekend of activities including a Chimney Swift Conservation Forum, which brought together conservation leaders from all over the nation to discuss and design strategies to save these birds. Strategies varied from building regional roost towers, launching advocacy campaigns, using 3D video and computer software and much more.

Melinda Teves, in Chico, California, started a “Neighborhood Habitat Certification Program” designed to educate and empower individuals to restore native habitat and protect waterways, one front-lawn at a time. With the Altacal Audubon Society, Teves collaborated with the city, the local water company, local businesses, non-profits and experts to help residents convert unused lawns to native landscape. At a time when California is experiencing tremendous drought, educating and giving residents tools to effect change has never been more crucial.

Shannon Unger, in Aiken, South Carolina, at the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center has teamed up with the nonprofit Helping Hands to use urban gardening as a therapeutic tool for abused children who suffer from trauma. The children have participated in various outdoor projects including bird watching, planting native plants and more. They've been presented with opportunities to transform entire pieces of land, with the responsibility of maintaining and caring for it. This sense of responsibility and collaboration with their peers is a new opportunity for children who have experienced neglect and abuse their whole lives. Overall, these activities help lessen the stress children feel and can help them heal.

These three projects encompass diverse approaches to conservation and engage a variety of people with different backgrounds, ages and interests. This is exactly what Toyota TogetherGreen set out to do eight years ago—change the face of conservation and empower people across America to take action.

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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.