By Palak Kumar
Natural habitats have an important role in our lives. We depend on forest and terrestrial ecosystems for various resources like food and sustenance. The Sustainable Development Goal 15 (SDG 15): Life on Land, is about protecting, storing, and promoting the sustainable use of all ecosystems so that we can have a better future.
The world lost about 12 million hectares of forest per year from 2000–2010 due to the expansion of commercial agriculture. This deforestation has also led to a loss of biodiversity, which in turn leads to low crop productivity and value. This also results in climate change. SDG 15 aims to ensure sustainable use, restoration, and conservation of these ecosystems.
Iconic ecosystems like the Amazon Rainforest, Spain’s Donana wetlands, and The Great Barrier Reef are of global importance. Hence they have been designated as world heritage sites.
The Amazon Rainforest is a globally important climate regulator. The Donana wetlands in southern Spain are Europe’s most important wintering site for waterfowl, hosts over half a million birds, and is home to numerous unique invertebrate and plant species.
Rising temperatures, dry spells and deforestation threaten the Amazon Rainforest and can turn the ecosystem into a drier and fire-prone woodland. Even the species living there are at risk.
Due to the nutrient run-off from the use of agricultural fertilizers and the quality of urban wastewater, water quality is degrading in the wetlands, which causes toxic algal blooms. The warm climate encourages more severe blooms and hence causes loss of native plants and animals.
Preventing deforestation and canopy damage can protect the forest from fires and maintain rainfall; thus preventing drastic ecosystem transformation.
Certain bold policy interventions and voluntary agreements have slowed deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest to about one-fourth of the previous rates.
Ocean acidification and coral bleaching are threatening the Great Barrier Reef. Both of these are induced due to carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, local threats like overfishing and nutrient run-off also reduce the reef’s resilience to acidification and bleaching.
Australia is a wealthy country and has the capability to improve its management of the reef. But UNESCO is concerned as Australia is not doing enough to protect the Great Barrier Reef, which can be disastrous in the long run.
It is one of the largest and most protected ecosystems. It spans 40,000 sq. km.
Every year, 1 million wildebeest, half a million gazelle, and 2,00,000 zebras do a perilous trek from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya in search of water and grazing land.
Increasing human activity along the boundaries has had a detrimental impact on plants, animals and soils. Many of the boundary areas have had a 400% increase in human population over the past decade. Also, large wildlife species in key areas like Kenya have declined by more than 75%.
We need strategies to sustain the coexistence of local people and wildlife in the landscapes around protected areas. The current strategy of hard boundaries is a major risk for both people and wildlife.
Our future is linked to the survival of these ecosystems. Of the more than 3,00,000 known species of plants, the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature) has evaluated only 12,914 species, finding that about 68% of evaluated plant species are threatened with extinction.
An estimated 18 million acres of forest, which is roughly the size of the country of Panama, are lost worldwide each year. According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), it is estimated that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation.
Land and forests are the foundation of sustainable development. Preserving life on land requires concerted action not only to protect terrestrial ecosystems, but to restore them and promote their sustainable use for the future.
Suggestions as to how we as normal civilians can help protect such ecosystems:
There is a lot more we can do, but even these simple things can make a huge difference.
About the author: Palak Kumar is an insatiably curious Mechanical Engineering student, passionate about flying, clouds, literature, and plants.