Column: Rediscovery Of The Bermuda Cahow

January 28, 2021

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

The January 28, 1951 rediscovery of the Cahow – a sea bird which once flourished in Bermuda, but was thought to be extinct for 300 years – was a watershed event. That revelation had both local and global implications as it was symbolic of the type of rebirth being manifested in that era following the devastating inhumanity of World War II.

When humans emerged in Africa an estimated 200,000 years ago, we possessed two characteristics key for survival and our potential to thrive. These included a capacity to Learn and to collaborate as social beings; characteristics that synergized.

The Post-War period, into the early 1950’s proved to be an era of transformation; fostered as people collaborated, learning to challenge regressive status quos in diverse ways.

Here are a few stories of collaboration from that era which reflect that theme of rebirth around the planet:

  • The Gordon Movement – in the late 40s – challenged our regressive society, opening minds and hearts. Edwin Skinner, the retired principal of the segregated Cavendish Primary, responded to racial barriers, opening access for blacks to secondary education. Upon Skinner’s death, Edward DeJean continued in establishing Howard Academy, leveraging the potential of students, despite scarce resources; through collaboration with parents, the neighbouring ‘Tech’ and grassroots support.
  • The January 28, 1951 rediscovery of the Cahow was a collaborative effort involving the spirit of volunteerism by the curator of the aquarium, Louis Mowbray, a New York couple from the American Museum of Natural History, and a 15-year-old student with a passion – David Wingate.
  • On April 23, 1951, 16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns initiated a student strike at Virginia High School, protesting school segregation. That campaign’s eventual success was due to collaboration of parents and the NAACP. That protest became key for the historic 1954 US Supreme Court ruling regarding school desegregation.

Brain scientists confirm that the two most difficult challenges achieved by humans include learning to walk and talk. These two skills are established long before any formal learning begins, supporting the premise that learning is a collaborative adventure happening all the time.

This reality has been captured by an initiative led by UNESCO, called “Learning Cities,” which recognizes that learning happens beyond barriers, and at it’s best can empower people and wider societies. In the spirit of thinking globally but acting locally, there are already 200 cities in 40 countries which are a part of the international collaboration ‘Global Network of Learning Cities.’

The collaboration involved in Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Rediscovery of the Cahow resonates with UNESCO’s mission.

Sustaining this momentum, involving school principals from the public and private sector at both the senior and middle level; along with other stakeholders in relevant community organizations will benefit the whole island.

The 70th celebration of this iconic event – the rebirth – allows us to emerge from our proverbial silos, opening our understanding.

This widening of perspective, fosters:

  • 1. Appreciation of how civic engagement leverages societal change and removes barriers to the benefit of all.
  • 2. Young people being reminded that they can make a difference as demonstrated by two teens; David Wingate and Barbara Johns of Virginia.
  • 3. Notwithstanding our island’s tiny size and isolation; as the story of the Cahow demonstrates, we can offer templates that can be useful globally.
  • 4. Promoting our vital role as stewards of the planet; sustaining endangered species generally; addresses the global challenge of The Sixth Extinction.

This initiative to promote collaboration in fostering a learning community is building on decades of effort by many. These include – amongst others: BIOS; BAMZ; BUEI; Bermuda College; Spirit of Bermuda and the National Museum of Bermuda.

Celebrating that ‘rebirth’ of 1951 is an opportunity to reboot that spirit in 2021.

The links for the Virtual Lunch & Learn on Thursday, January 28th, hosted by Bermuda College Science Chair Amy Harvey are on Facebook and YouTube.

- Glenn Fubler


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Category: All, Environment