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The earth’s ecosystems need protection – How are we helping?8 min read

June 9, 2021 5 min read

The earth’s ecosystems need protection – How are we helping?8 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

There was some devastating news about the planet a few weeks ago.

A study published in the Frontiers of in Forests and Global Change found that only 3% of the world’s ecosystems are still intact. What’s worse? Another study revealed that more than 77% of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87% of oceans on earth had been modified by human intervention! But wait, how is this even possible? The world has so many large pockets of protected land and India itself has more than one can count on two hands. How does all of that not make up more than 3% of the earth’s ecosystems? Let’s investigate.

Is the earth doomed?

That’s an interesting (albeit, apocalyptic) question.

What constitutes the ecosystems the study is talking about? The 3% is the land untouched by mankind in any form or consequence. And that means places with a healthy amount of animal populations and more importantly, forests with their original populations of animals more or less intact. And apparently, these fragments of untouched wilderness are now only found in parts of the Amazon and Congo tropical forests, east Siberian and Canadian forests and tundra, and the Sahara. The terrible news doesn’t stop there. Only 11% of this 3% is protected land, and mostly under the guardianship of indigenous communities. That means, the rest of the land is still at risk of being destroyed!

Much of what we consider intact habitat is lacking animals that have been hunted [and poached] by humans or destroyed due to invasive species or disease. It’s a little frightening because it demonstrates how rare it is to see areas like the Serengeti that have fully functional habitats.

Dr. Andrew Plumptre of the Key Biodiversity Areas Secretariat in Cambridge, UK, the study’s lead author

Previous studies, which used satellite imaging said that about 20% – 40% of the Earth has been unaffected by humans. But scientists behind the new study have said that ecosystems like the tundra, savannah and more look good from above, but their essential species either lack land or are quickly disappearing. These species are named ‘essential’ because they perform an important function in keeping the ecosystem stable. Elephants, for example are seed dispersers and help in clearing land. Wolves, on the other hand, keep the elk and deer population in check. Without these players, the delicate balance in the forests is lost.

Have you watched Disney’s The Jungle Book? Here’s a short clip from the movie that stresses on why elephants are important to the jungle.

Wait, what are ecosystems?

What a good question. Before we move on to the good news, it’s imperative that you understand the kind of ecosystems that the earth has. To understand more about this phenomenon, watch the video below.

But we already know that the earth is in trouble.

Throughout the last year, we’ve all heard some terrible stories about the environment. There were species that were lost, others that lost a chunk of their homes and more forests that were destroyed. For more context, check out these stories by Team Owliver.

Where are our planet’s animals?
Our planet is now at the mercy of the world’s biggest banks
Population of ocean sharks has fallen by 71%
Platypuses have lost 1/4th of their homes
The impact of our filth on wildlife
Human made objects weigh more than all living things

So, we are doomed?

Despite all the bad news, not quite!

As always, humans have found a way to reverse problems that they caused in the first place. And the idea that seems at the forefront of this effort is Rewilding. This is the UN Decade of ecosystem restoration, ecologists and scientists are now focusing on two areas; rewilding and through this process, restoring degraded habitat.

Rewilding is not a new idea. It’s been around for a few decades now, and began with the US reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone National Park about 26 years ago. But what is interesting are the effects it has had on the park. When the wolves were introduced, there was only one Beaver colony in the entire park. As of 2020, there are nine colonies.

Before the wolves arrived, the elk population overran the park and destructed the willow stands there. Now, with the elk population in control due to the presence of another predator, the willows stand taller and the elk population is up and about. To keep it short, wolves are the restoring the balance of ecology in Yellowstone National Park. And because of the success of these reintroductions, other places have taken up the challenge too. Scientists believe that introducing a small number of important species to damaged lands could save more than 20% of them!

Targeted reintroductions have happened and are happening in small ways. For example, Scotland aims at becoming the world’s first rewilding nation by up to 30% of public land and reintroducing key species like beavers and the Eurasian Lynx. Read more about Scotland’s plan here.

“These areas will likely be located in eastern Russia, northern Canada and Alaska, the Amazon Basin, parts of the Sahara, and the Congo Basin,” the study said.”Examples would include reintroducing forest elephants in areas of the Congo Basin where they have been extirpated, or reintroducing some of the large ungulates that have been lost from much of Africa’s woodlands and savannas because of overhunting (e.g., buffalo, giraffe, zebras etc.), as long as overhunting has ceased.”

Does India believe in rewilding?

Yup, it does! India too is on its own mission to rewild and reintroduce important species. A few weeks ago, it announced that Cheetahs from Namibia would be reintroduced to the Indian jungles after 70 years. Recently, the endangered Indian antelope and Blackbucks were introduced to Bisalpur, Rajasthan, apart from other flora and fauna by the Bisalpur Rewilding Project.

However, as much as there are pockets of preservation on one side, there are bigger problems for India to deal with. For example, a new environmental law allows construction projects to take place in ecologically-sensitive areas. This could be problematic to conservation and the protection of many endangered species. It could also end up causing more damage to sensitive ecosystems and eating up more protected land in the name of development.

Do you think that rewilding is a good strategy to bring back a balance in ecologically-sensitive areas?

What do you think of the new environment laws in India?

Is development at the sake of environmental degradation okay? What are your arguments for and against this statement?

Let us know in the comments below.

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