Reflection on Bhutan Our Living Planet Camp by One Planet Youth Leader Christy Wong | WWF Hong Kong

Reflection on Bhutan Our Living Planet Camp by One Planet Youth Leader Christy Wong

12 February 2020

Editor Note:With the invitation from WWF-Bhutan, WWF-Hong Kong is honoured to have 2 One Planet Youth Leaders Peter Cheung and Christy Wong attending and leading the 6-day-5-night Our Living Planet Camp held in Punaka, Bhutan. In this expedition, apart from learning Bhutan’s conservation work, our 2 leaders also put the scientific research skills they learnt into the camp, so the local youngsters could learn about their precious nature through citizen science. 

The relationship between human and the natural environment 
Imagine, the world without animals or even trees… 
Have you ever wondered, if we are not going to take care of our planet, how will the environment look like for our future generations?
Our forests, rivers, oceans and soil provide us with the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we irrigate our crops with. We also rely on them for our daily goods and services, our health, happiness and prosperity.
The natural environment of Bhutan
Bhutan is well-known as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” or the “Land of happiness”. It is like a Xanadu on another planet. When we look at the Bhutanese people around you, it is common to see their lovely smiles on their faces. It has led me to ponder the question: Why do they feel joyful all the time? During the time there, I found out the reason, and that is the natural environment in their country.

Bhutan has a pristine environment, with high rugged mountains and deep valleys, offers ecosystems that are both rich and diverse. Bhutanese people are surrounded by the nature, forests, animals, mountain ranges and clear, crisp rivers which are the priceless and precious gifts for them. They consider every organism as a living individual and the natural environment is the key to a thriving economy. They believed that everything comes from the nature, where they get things to eat, to drink and even happiness, therefore, they cherish the beauty of nature. 

Conservation is one of the four pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness philosophy. More than 51% of the country land area is protected—the largest percentage of any Asian country. Most of it is intact, high biodiversity forests interwoven with free-flowing rivers. The rest of the country is covered with green mountains, deep valleys, wildlife sanctuaries and reserves. These vast areas of natural forest act as a large carbon sink, making it the first carbon-negative country in the world.  Due to its unique natural environment, 100% of Bhutan's national electricity also comes from hydropower.
Our Living Planet Camp 
During the 6-day educational camp, we learnt together and from each other with the Bhutanese youths. The environmental education activities in the camp enable youth participants to experience and comprehend nature in a stimulating way and motivate them to take sustainable action in both their daily life and communities. We have 30 participants in total, including Bhutanese youths of age 11 to 15, volunteers and staff from WWF Hong Kong, India and Bhutan.
Experiencing BioBlitz and Bird Watching 
BioBlitz is a citizen science activity which participants will try to find out and identify as many wildlife as possible within a certain area, within a short period of time. BioBlitz allows participants to observe our nature in detail, so they will appreciate and love our nature more. It also helps the scientist to monitor and detect changes in the surveyed area. 
During BioBlitz, we went to a nearby community forest and took pictures using the app iNaturalist to record and identify different plants, insects, fungi and other organisms. The youths then upload their observations to iNaturalist to the global database. Afterwards, they presented their results as well as recommendations on how to better preserve the biodiversity in the area. The youths were amazed by how much wildlife they could discover just within a small patch of forest area.
With the rapid modernization in Bhutan and lack of civic awareness among the people, littering and waste dumping are common in here. We saw rubbish on the hiking trail and even in the forest. Therefore, we challenged the youths to pick up the trash, which could foster their habit of cleaning up hiking trails and taking away their own trash when visiting nature.

On the third day of the camp, we reached Pho Chhu river before sunrise for birdwatching. While walking along the river, we spotted around 30 species of beautiful birds in Bhutan, including Ruddy Shelduck, Scimitar Babbler and Common Merganser. It was the first bird-watching experience for many of the kids! 
Biodiversity Surveys
On the fourth day of the camp, we have prepared 3 different biodiversity survey methods for them, including pond dipping, using pitfall trap, and infrared camera. For some of the participants, it is their first time to use these tools for surveys. Hopefully in the future, they will also have a chance to lead others to do biodiversity surveys in their communities and becoming an environmental ambassador in Bhutan.
Our Planet Future Summit and a role-play debate
In recent years, with the increasing number of mines and quarries in the country, the waste management problems and water pollution are a matter of concern. During the our planet future summit and role-play debate, the participants discussed both local and global environmental issues, from the perspective of environment, society and governance. The youth took on the roles of ‘World Leaders’ and ‘Our Planet Experts’, where they to think and voice out  policies on sustainable development, in order to protect our environment. 
Make A Difference: Conducting Projects In Their Communities
The youths were given two projects to choose from, which  is “Bend The Curve Challenge” and “Local Action on Biodiversity” project. They planned their activities with the knowledge and skills they learnt in camp and they proposed innovative ideas in order to maximize the impact. This could allow the youth to practice what they have learnt and help to build a sustainable future in local their communities.
Take Action!  
It is a common misconception that natural resources are unlimited and free for humans. Therefore we take it for granted and overexploit them. We logged too much, fished too much, polluted rivers and nature, without realizing we have created a huge social and economic cost for ourselves.
As long as we make small differences on our habitats and adopt a low-carbon lifestyle, the environmental problems could be solved. We, humans, as part of nature, are interconnected with our Mother Nature. The counter-intuitive thing is that humans are trying to thrive in expense of the environment. What we do currently to compensate the damage is obviously far from enough. I believe that for every action we make, no matter how insignificant it is, can influence the people around us. As many hands make light work, with our collective effort, we can create a better world for both human beings and all creatures. Dream together, to work together, to fight climate change together, to protect our planet together. Keep planting seeds as you will never know when they will blossom!