Columban Competition: read the winning article and admire the winning images

May 8, 2024

Students aged 13-18 were invited to produce a piece of writing or create an image on the topic ‘Biodiversity Matters’ for the 2024 Columban Schools Media Competition. Their work had to demonstrate an awareness and an understanding of the issue of biodiversity and highlight people, communities and/or organisations trying to build a sustainable future.

Protecting biodiversity – which humanity relies on for health, food and well-being – is a mission priority of Columban missionaries. The competition was run by the Columbans and the Far East magazine.

In the print category, Clíodhna McKeever of St Catherine’s College, Armagh secured first place; Conn Fyfe of St Louis Grammar School, Ballymena came second; and Anna McQuillan of St Dominic’s, Belfast came third.

Image winners were Alanah McKenzie of St Paul’s Secondary School, Dublin who was awarded first prize; Keelin Bellemand of Le Chéile Secondary School, Tyrrelstown, Dublin came second; and Róise Curtin of Loreto Secondary School Clonmel came third.

By Alanah McKenzie

The winning article by Clíodhna McKeever can be read below.

Congratulations to all the winners! We would like to thank every student who made the effort to enter the competition. The judges paid tribute to the very high standard this year. Thank you also to all our judges for their time and expertise. The full list of winners can be seen here:

Biodiversity Matters

By Clíodhna McKeever, St Catherine’s College, Armagh

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31)

The Earth wasn’t always the damaged planet that it has been normalised as in the 21st century; it was once a beautiful paradise created by God for humankind. Our exploitation of our home has biodiversity on its knees, crying for help. Pope Francis wrote this in Laudato Sí in May 2015, “The human family has received from the creator a common gift: Nature.”

Without nature, animals and the earth’s natural resources humans would struggle to exist, yet we continue to scar our landscapes, exploiting those natural resources and uprooting habitats, leaving ecosystems out of balance. Pope Francis has also said that, “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God… we have no such right.” We humans often forget that all wildlife are God’s creatures, to be treated with the utmost respect and the care that we would treat a fellow human with. On the sixth day of creation God created humans and animals alike but our human mindset is often selfish, destroying habitats and overhunting solely for our own benefit.

Biodiversity is all of the different kinds of life found existing together in one area, a variety of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms like bacteria that make up the world we live in. The whole idea of biodiversity is that all species work together in ecosystems to maintain a balance in the natural world. However, biodiversity has been in rapid decline which has had a knock-on effect on our ecosystems and their functionality.

By Keelin Bellemand

This loss of biodiversity means that God’s creatures experience habitat loss, there is increased air pollution, increased global warming and species are over-hunted and begin to die out.

The Fifth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” can be considered in the context of overhunting and overfishing. This unnecessary bloodshed means species are depleted in great numbers and gaps form in our ecosystems, creating a whole host of other problems. Our generation has never known a world without the looming shadow of global warming, but we’re the generation that is inheriting the earth in its current state.

“Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation” Pope Francis.

Humans can’t continue like this. That is the simple truth. We can’t continue to deforest the world at the rate we have. In the last 12,000 years, 46% of the world’s trees have been cleared. We can’t continue to destroy God’s creatures and habitats; at least 15,000 species are facing extinction! We can’t continue to harm these creatures and harm ourselves by allowing 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic to float around in our oceans. As Pope Francis has said, “We are all stewards of the earth. We are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family.”

Humans have allowed biodiversity to wither to such an extent that only half of it is left in the world. We have so far failed in our mission to be stewards of our common home. We initially think of biodiversity as something that only affects the natural world and the animals in it but we couldn’t be more wrong. Columban Fr Seán McDonagh has said, “Destruction of biodiversity is not just about what is happening to other creatures, humanity relies on biodiversity for its health, food and wellbeing.”

Biodiversity supports all life on Earth including humans and is instrumental in processes that help to produce food, control pests and disease, develop medicines and purify water and air, all essential factors of human survival. So really, by continuing to damage biodiversity we are self-sabotaging.

Being a steward of the Earth can take many forms from recycling to litter picking your local area, to planting flowers and plants to encourage pollination and new habitats. There are many organisations that strive to be stewards of the Earth caring for the natural world. One of these is the Irish organisation Eco Unesco.

By Róise Curtin

Eco Unesco is Ireland’s Environmental Education and Youth Organisation. They work to conserve the local environment and empower young people to do the same. They aim to raise environmental awareness among young people through practical projects, workshops and training in schools, youth clubs and communities across the country. They also run a competition annually called the ‘Young Environmentalist Awards’. This programme is designed to honour the work of young people in the age bracket of 12-18 years old who conserve and enhance our beautiful environment through local initiatives and projects making a difference to their own lives and the lives of other people both on a local and global scale.

I was part of a team that took part in and won this competition which we entered as part of our Eco Club in our school. Our project, ‘Cooling the Callan’, was aimed at reintegrating biodiversity into the River Callan in Armagh, which borders our school.

To do that we took action and planted 40 trees of varying species along the banks of the Callan river to cool the water with the shade of the trees and create habitats for wildlife that may settle there. We went on to win our category and become overall winners for the competition in 2022. I think the initiative embodies the theme of ‘Biodiversity matters’, the trees we planted will grow and flourish in the next few years to shade the river’s waters, provide shelter for various species and purify the air we breathe.

“Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment” Pope Francis

The Pope urges us all to take action to conserve biodiversity and do all we can to save the only planet we have. The word ‘catholic’ itself means “all embracing,” so as Catholics we should embrace all species, embrace the beauty of the natural world and embrace the challenge of protecting our common home.

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