Remembrance Day for Lost Species

Artist and activist Persephone Pearl on why - and how - to honour the creatures whose time on Earth is over.
The Remembrance Day For Lost Species processed through the bitter cold carrying silhouettes of iconic lost species in Primrose Hill, London. (lostspeciesday.org)
Listen21:14

Persephone Pearl is the director of ONCA, a environmental and social advocacy group based in Brighton, UK. She is one of the organizers that runs the Remembrance Day for Lost Species, an annual memorial dedicated to species and places forever lost to us.

"We will do something.  We will do something beautiful. We will act in defiance. We will try something ridiculous in the face of this kind of overwhelming sorrow. That's kind of permission-giving and then tears can follow once laughter has been generated."

It is a day of music, fire (they call it a pollinator pyre), poetry and performance, all themed around a sense of universal loss for the whole planet.

Burial at sea for the great auk, Brighton 2011 (lostspeciesday.org)

"Simply put, Earth is in the early stages of the sixth mass extinction and we're losing biodiversity at a breakneck speed. And creatures and plants and all sorts of living things are disappearing at a rate that is hard to comprehend or keep up with. My friends and I, and a lot of people, had the sense that we need to make spaces to focus on, think about, reflect on these kinds of changes."

Each year commemorates a different extinct species. In 2018, they're mourning the loss of the Steller's sea cow, a large marine mammal whose living relatives are the dugong and the manatee. Steller's sea cow was last seen in 1768 in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of its extinction, just a few years after it was first observed and named by Europeans.

Pearl knows the topic is overwhelming, discouraging and painful.  But she says it's vital to approach it in a spirit of hope. And - yes - laughter is allowed.

"It's absolutely ok to laugh, I think laughter is really important because it's part of it, isn't it? It's part of feeling. And I don't think any particular feelings are forbidden. All feelings are welcome and I think we just want to cut into a space where feelings are welcome and difficult emotions just being swept aside or just blocked out - because I think a lot of the time…there is so much terrible stuff happening all around us, all the time. It's overwhelming. Tired of bad news that surrounds us. You have to be quite careful with your feelings. You can't feel too much or you feel like you might be losing your mind."

Click LISTEN above to hear about how a planned viking funeral for the extinct auk went wrong...