Join Elgin High's annual National Biodiversity Teach-In next month

For the past six years, Elgin High School's environmental science teachers and students have organized a series of free webinars on biodiversity topics. They invite scientists, grass-roots organizations, and activists to present. The webinars are free and open to the public.

The presentations are an hour long and take place on each Friday in February.

The National Biodiversity Teach-In webinars will begin at 8 a.m. with the last at 5 p.m.

The Teach-In is free and the goal is to educate the masses about biodiversity and its importance.

Learn more at

You can interact with the student organizers on Twitter @NatBioTeach and on Instagram @nationalbiodiversity. Check out past webinars on the YouTube channel, National Biodiversity Teach-In.

The proposed schedule for the webinars on Friday, Feb. 7, is posted online at Registration is required for each webinar.

• The day will begin at 8 a.m. with the webinar "Working With the Mountain's Ambassador: The Snow Leopard" with Dr. Koutstubh Sharma. The presentation, for ages 5 to adult, will use stories and anecdotes to introduce the audience to the snow leopard as a species, its biological and ecological requirements, and conservation models being implemented at community, region and policy levels through various ongoing programs.

Sharma has been involved in active research and conservation for 17 years. He is working with the Snow Leopard Trust in Seattle as a senior regional ecologist since 2007, and since 2014, has taken additional charge as the International Coordinator of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystems Protection Program (GSLEP) whose secretariat is based in Bishkek. As the International Coordinator with the GSLEP Program, Sharma leads a small team with support from international organizations to coordinate this unique alliance that brings together governments of the 12 snow leopard range countries, international financial institutions and conservationists. As senior regional ecologist at the Snow Leopard Trust, he assists in field research, data analysis, and conservation and training programs across several countries. He obtained a Ph.D. in wildlife zoology from the University of Mumbai in 2006 after pursuing his masters in physics in 2001. His conducted the first detailed study of the rare four-horned antelope while working with Bombay Natural History Society in Central India. His academic interests lie in quantitative ecology, conservation biology, and ecological modeling. He has so far written more than 20 scientific publications and has presented his work in nearly the same number of international conferences.

• At 9 a.m., the webinar will be "Transforming Passion for Turtles Into Effective Conservation Action" with Jordan Gray. The presentation, for ages 9 to adult, will focus on the Turtle Survival Alliance's conservation actions utilizing a three-pronged approach: restoring populations in the wild, securing species in captivity through assurance colonies, and building the capacity to restore, secure, and conserve species within their range country.

Gray is the communications and outreach coordinator with the Turtle Survival Alliance and field scientist for their North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group. Now based in Charleston, South Carolina, Gray has spent roughly equal amounts of time cultivating his love of the natural world as a wildlife biologist and naturalist in the woods of New York, Virginia, Georgia, and Texas. It was in these areas where a profound interest and knowledge base for the herpetological world developed. With a focus on turtles and tortoises, his body of work includes field and laboratory research, in situ and ex situ conservation action plans, captive husbandry, and public outreach. Professionally and as a volunteer, Gray has worked for, and in collaboration with, various nonprofit environmental groups, state agencies, universities, zoological institutions, chelonian conservation groups, and as an ecotour guide. It's his life's mission to promote conservation awareness for the turtles and tortoises of the world.

• At 10 a.m., the webinar will be "Beneath the Surface: The Impact of Captivity on the Welfare of Orcas" by Dr. Naomi Rose. This talk for age 13 to adult will cover the various aspects of captive enclosures and how orcas (also known as killer whales) are maintained in marine theme parks and aquariums that have a negative impact on their welfare. It will refer to the latest research on, and knowledge of, orca biology to make the argument that this species cannot thrive in captivity.

Rose is the marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C. She campaigns against cetacean live capture, trade, and captivity and has been a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee since 2000, where she participates in the subcommittees on environmental concerns and whale watching. She has written or co-authored over 45 scientific papers and articles for animal protection publications, as well as chapters in several books. She has participated in various conferences, workshops, meetings, and task forces at the international, national and state level. She has testified before the U.S. Congress four times, at the Canadian Parliament, and at several state legislative and regulatory hearings. Her work was featured in the 2012 nonfiction book "Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity" by David Kirby, and she gave a TEDx Talk in Bend, Oregon in April 2015 on captive orca welfare. She received a Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1992, where her dissertation examined the social dynamics of wild orcas. She has worked in the marine mammal advocacy field for 25 years.

• At 11 a.m., the webinar will be "How We Can Fix Our Broken Water Cycle" by Sandra Postel. The presentation, for ages 13 to adult, will discuss how big dams, river diversions, groundwater depletion, and widespread pollution have broken the water cycle. Water scarcity is spreading. Populations of fish and other freshwater life are rapidly diminishing. Now floods and droughts are worsening with climate change. But around the nation and the world, farmers, cities, businesses, and conservationists are coming up with innovative and promising solutions. If we conserve water, manage it better, and use our ingenuity to work with nature, rather than against it, we can fix our broken water cycle and build water security for all life.

Postel is founding director of the Global Water Policy Project and author of the recent book, "Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity." From 2009-2015, she served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society, where she co-created Change the Course, the water stewardship initiative awarded the 2017 US Water Prize for restoring billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands.

Postel works to bridge science, policy and practice to build a more water-secure world for people and nature. She has written four books and numerous articles for scholarly and popular publications, including Science, Natural History, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Scientific American. She has appeared in various media productions including the BBC's "Planet Earth," Leonardo DiCaprio's "The 11th Hour," and the National Geographic Channel's "Breakthrough" series. She has taught at Mt. Holyoke College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Previously she served as vice president for research at the Worldwatch Institute.

The recipient of several honorary degrees, Postel has been named a Pew Scholar in Conservation and the Environment and one of the Scientific American 50, an award recognizing contributions to science and technology.

• At noon, the webinar will be "Studying Dolphins Up Close ... and Why it Matters" by Dr. Kelly Jaakkola. How do dolphins think? Do they really have names? And how do we know that, anyway? In this webinar for ages 13 to adult, Jaakkola will talk about what we've learned from studying dolphins, and how this knowledge helps scientists correctly understand their behavior in the wild. She will discuss the major conservation threats to bottlenose dolphins (hint: it's us!), and the role that dolphin facilities play in addressing these issues. Finally, she will talk about the ethical issues involved in doing research and housing dolphins in marine mammal facilities - including what their life is like, how long they live, training practices, and dolphin intelligence

Jaakkola is a cognitive psychologist, marine mammal scientist, and director of research for the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida. She earned her Master's degree in Psychology from Emory University, where she began her career studying cognition in chimpanzees and human children, and received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from MIT. Her past research includes studies on number concepts, object permanence, imitation, and communication in dolphins, chimpanzees, and human children. Her current work focuses on dolphin cognition, communication and welfare. Jaakkola's research has been published in numerous international scientific journals and book chapters, and her work on dolphin cognition has received worldwide coverage in newspapers, magazine articles, books, and television. She has taught courses on human and animal cognition at several colleges, and chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.

• At 1 p.m., the webinar will be "Amphibians & Global Change: What do We Have to Lose?" by Dr. Joseph Milanovich. This presentation for ages 9 to adult will focus on global amphibian diversity, the current threats to global amphibians, and how humans and ecosystems may be at a disadvantage if amphibians continue to decline.

"My primary research interests focus on understanding the effect of land use and climate change on, and the ecological role of, communities - in both natural and urban ecosystems. My primary goal is to help understand the importance of biotic communities to ecosystem function and service. I have worked with a variety of taxa, but the majority of my research endeavors focus on amphibians in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. My research is primarily field based; however, I utilize a number of computer-based and laboratory techniques, such as species distribution models, ecological stoichiometry, and stable isotope analysis to study community and landscape-level interactions."

Previous research projects have included: investigating nutrient recycling and storage of stream salamanders in headwater streams; using species distribution models to predict the impact of climate and land use change on amphibians; examining the influence of urbanization on amphibians and macroinvertebrates in wetlands; and investigating the use of stable isotopes in herpetological research.

Milanovich continued, "Amphibians and reptiles are diverse and abundant groups of organisms with ecological links to a number of biota and ecosystem processes; however, they are currently under significant threats worldwide. Therefore, my research program uses a variety of methods to continue to investigate the importance of herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) to ecosystem function."

The afternoon webinars will continue with a program at 2 p.m. by Simone Baumann-Pickering, who leads the Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Acoustic Ecology Laboratory.

At 4 p.m., there will be a webinar by shark conservationist Jillian Morris.

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