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illUmiNations: Exposing the Cause Behind the Extinction of Species

Climate

New York City was certainly the place to be over the last week. There were so many events, it was impossible to attend everything. But one event I'm glad I didn't miss was the 11-minute unprecedented visual event of lighting up the United Nations headquarters—the day before the People's Climate March and two days before the UN Climate Summit—in a "revolutionary call to action for citizens of the world to demand action from their leaders to protect the world’s ecosystems."

The United Nations Department of Public Information, Oceanic Preservation Society founded by photographer and Academy Award-winning director Louie Psihoyos, Obscura Digital, producer Fisher Stevens and musical score composer J. Ralph collaborated to create this spectacular program.

“Scientists predict we will lose half of all our species on the planet by the end of this century," said Psihoyos. "We wanted to create a spectacular program that would showcase how fast we’re losing species and why their numbers are declining. We hope illUmiNations will bring well-needed attention to the plight of these animals and our role in their decline.”

illUmiNations will be the culminating moment in Oceanic Preservation Society’s latest film, RACING EXTINCTION, which takes a candid look at the current state of the planet’s health, exposing the causes behind the rapidly increasing rate of extinction among animal and plant species.

"Our generation must illuminate and take action around truth for the sake of future generations. It is imperative that we at a personal level and we at a governmental level stand and change together," said Travis Threlkel, founder and chief creative officer at Obscura Digital.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"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."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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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.