Since its inception four years ago, the G2 Gallery in Venice has made a conscious effort to showcase environmentally friendly organizations and causes as well as art with a strong conservation and preservation component.

On May 10, the gallery hosted the “Young Environmentalist’s Symposium,” a panel discussion on various types of environmental activism including projects by two graduate students, an environmentalist working on a documentary, research on bird populations by a professor from a local university and the work of a scientist from one of the state’s most influential environmental organizations.

The gallery, which opened in 2008, showcases artists who photograph wildlife as well as wetlands and scenic landscapes, but who also have a strong conservation and preservation component in their work.

“We are always coming across people here at the gallery who are doing very exciting things,” G2 Gallery Marketing Director Gia LaRussa explained when asked how the concept of hosting the symposium was conceived.

She credited the gallery’s publicist, Diane Shader Smith, with the idea of putting together a symposium that would feature a group of environmentalists who are involved in a variety of projects across the environmental spectrum.

“Diane thought bringing in young people who are trying to change the world makes for interesting conversations,” LaRussa said.

Sarah Sikich, the coastal resources director at Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, talked about the scourge of plastic in the ocean and the harm that it does on its inhabitants.

Heal the Bay lobbies local and state governments to ban plastic bags and to date there are 45 cities statewide that have enacted prohibitions on the sale of single use plastic bags. Los Angeles County implemented its own ban in 2010.

Sikich is one of Heal the Bay’s scientists who tracks legislation outlawing plastic as well as educates the public through beach cleanup days and other initiatives on what the synthetic material does to sea creatures.

“As an avid ocean lover, I have been fortunate to be able to travel to a number of places,” Sikich said in an interview after the symposium. “And it’s taught me how dangerous plastic is to our sea life.”

She told the story at the gallery of a dead whale found off the coast of Puerto Rico that had ingested plastic. “(Doctors) found 20 pounds of plastic bags in its stomach,” Sikich recalled.

Last year on Coastal Cleanup Day, volunteers throughout California collected over a million pounds of trash, including plastic bags. Yet, Heal the Bay and other organizations continue to see sea lions, sea turtles and dolphins that ingest plastic or in the case of sea gulls, sometimes choke on the substance.

According to Heal the Bay, plastic is the second leading ocean pollutant behind cigarette butts.

Heather Watts, PhD., an assistant biology professor at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, is researching if reproductive patterns in birds might eventually be altered due to climate change and what repercussions that could have on certain bird populations.

Because some birds use day length or photoperiod, the duration of an organism’s daily exposure to light, as their cues for food collection and mating, the advent of global warming could precipitate a shift in their reproductive cycles, says the LMU biologist.

Watts said there is research dating back to the 1950s and 1960s that indicates that certain species of birds are laying clutches, or batches of eggs, much sooner as the temperature has become warmer throughout the globe.

“What I’ve been doing is I’ve been trying to use similar data from California to see what’s happening with breeding patterns in birds locally,” the professor explained. “I’ve been working with house finches, which are really common birds in Los Angeles as well as California.”

Watts is studying data from finch nests, which are essentially historical records from museums accumulated by scientists and naturalists. Through these records, she can determine what time of year the nests were built.

Working with a group of students, Watts is examining if California finches are nesting earlier as well, as California has been warming over the past century.

“What we’re finding is they are nesting at about the same time,” she said. “But when we look at when they are ending their breeding season, that is getting earlier than it was 100 years ago.”

What that could mean, according to Watts, is that fewer clutches are being laid during the breeding season.

She is essentially just “scratching the surface” with her research, and one of the areas of investigation is whether the change in breeding could be driven directly by the change in temperature or if changing temperatures can be influencing food supply, or a combination of the two.

Watts said the repercussions of the warming temperatures could be whether or not certain birds are able to adapt to their new environment.

“If birds are able to shift and breed earlier as food supplies are available earlier, that suggests that they should do pretty well,” she said. “But if there are limits to their ability to shift and adjust, then we might have concerns about how these populations might fare in the future.”

In addition to Watts and Sikich, the other panelists included Christian Alvez, the programs coordinator for the Playa del Rey-based Friends of Ballona Wetlands, Laurel Klein Serieys, a doctoral student who is working with the National Park Service in determining threats to bobcat populations in the region, Hilton Oyamaguchi, another UCLA doctoral student who is working on biodiversity centering on frogs, and Brendon O’Neal, a Malibu resident who is working on a documentary.

After the discussion, the audience, which included a number of college students, asked the panelists a number of detailed questions on their various research and projects.

Sikich enjoyed being part of the panel. “I thought it was a great opportunity to meet emerging environmentalists who are engaged in a variety of interesting environmental projects,” she said.

“We were very pleased with the turnout and the level of engagement, as well as the questions that were asked,” said LaRussa, who was the forum’s moderator. “It’s so important for us to attract people who are engaged and want to learn about the environment, because that’s our mission.”

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