Conservation principles 3
for further study
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map gives you immediate access to all articles on this site. (11p)
biodiversity: what is biodiversity? How to understand biodiversity and what is not biodiversity. (32p)
resource management: all conservation begins by understanding resource management first. (28p)
marine conservation: the sea is so different from the land that it requires special understanding. (34p)
marine degradation: whatever we do wrong on the land, threatens the sea. (30p)
soil: our most important renewable resource we are losing fastest. What can we do? (large)
disappearing beaches: we are losing our beaches but few know why, as we do the wrong things. (53p)
science, technology and human nature: if you think we can save ourselves, think again. (35p)
global threats to people and environment: a summary of the threats to ourselves and others. Ouch! (20p)
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Protecting a speciesWhen a known species suddenly declines, people are confronted with the decision to let extinction follow, or to attempt to save the species. Resources are needed to do so, and these must come from the public purse. Thus public awareness and political support are needed. A cute species in a rich country thus stands a much better chance than a harmful species in a poor country.
When attempting to salvage a single species in the presence of the conditions that caused their decline, a large number of questions must be answered in detail:
Conservationists recognise a number of species by their role in conservation:
Protecting a unique spotWe can recognise a special place intuitively, without knowing exactly why, and many places have been reserved for various different reasons, such as for their view, scenic, recreational values and so on. If one were placed before the choice of reserving for one's children the best, the worst, or the average, what would one choose? Most people would opt for the best, and so it should be. Those places are also rarest.
Protecting a habitatBy protecting a habitat, all species within it, are protected too, as a functional unit. By preserving a representative sample of all habitats in all regions, one can offer some protection to a large number of species, without even knowing that they exist. Habitat protection in this way, requires the least amount of information.
On land, one is left with very few choices, since most valuable habitat has already been used by people. Conservation then consists of using wisely, what has been left for nature. However, in the sea, many habitats have not been changed to such extent. The problem here is that everything under water is hidden from view, and that our knowledge of the sea is far from complete. One could question therefore, whether people would be better able to choose a representative sample habitat than one chosen at random, by the throwing of dice, so to speak. However, as has been illustrated above, what we know of ecosystems, habitats, communities and populations, can be used to improve the quality of any (marine) reserve.
Scientists have made the following distinction in the quality of a habitat for a given species:
Ideally, one would like to be able to measure the value of living biota to arrive at some objective conservation value. Areas with high conservation value then have high priority for being preserved. The following formula has been suggested:
High Conservation Value HCV= biota value x vulnerabilityConservation areas could also be chosen according to nature's own criteria for resilience, and thus their chance of success. Nature achieves resilience by growth + reproduction (overcapacity), variety and connectedness (functioning). For a species this would translate to fecundity, genetic variety and interacting individuals or groups. For an area it would translate to size, variety of habitats and being connected or networked.
As one can see, it consists of two factors which are not only difficult to measure, but are also open to interpretation.
Land reserves benefit most from being large and interconnected so that animals can meet for mating. Plants benefit from having a large area for the propagation of their seeds (seeds in cultivated lands are not successful). On the land, genes can travel only physically with the individuals or carried as seeds by animals. In the sea, this is somewhat different, because nearly all marine plants and animals produce larvae which take part in the plankton for a few days to months of their lives. In the process, they become dispersed far afield by ocean currents, carrying their genetic diversity with them (the thistledown effect).
Note! Be suspicious of the word Network. It is being overused, and often out of context. Check whether connection is present and the interchange of genetic information.
The spiritual dimensionPeople are both the cause of our problems and our hope for solving them. Either way, they also affect the lives of other people. So the human dimension of conservation is large. People are not just motivated by balancing prices and costs, benefits and liabilities, profits and losses. They are also motivated by values that cannot be measured - spiritual values.
lives only in our minds
Conservation is an abstract concept aimed at changing people's behaviour or the side effects of their behaviour. The animals and plants in question are unaware of it. It stands to reason therefore, to say that conservation lives only in our minds.
Now a fisherman arrives at the reserve. For the reserve to work, he
must become aware by reading a sign (he must be told), then he must
what not to do. Then he must agree and finally, he must actually
it. As one can see, a very long chain of most unlikely events. It makes
a conservation area very sensitive to failure, particularly when a few
can spoil it for so many. It takes just one fisherman, one day, to wipe
out a substantial stock of old fish. As reserves do become successful,
their stocks increase, and so does the temptation for poaching.
|In my lectures to children,
I liken the reserve concept to a bank note, asking why this piece of paper
is worth five dollar. Children (and parents) come up with acceptable answers,
like its special form and paper, but nobody guesses that it is our belief
that makes it worth five dollar. I show that it is paper by sequentially
ripping bits from the bank note. Paper tears. Paper also burns, and half
the bank note goes up in flames. What do I have now? Everybody is in turmoil
for burning the note (a belief has been challenged or shattered) and in
confusion about the question, but nobody is keen to give me $2.50 for half
the note. Eventually we agree that half a note is worth nothing. But this
does not make sense, logically speaking. Eventually the reality of our
belief sinks in. We do not believe that a half-burnt banknote retains half
its value or its whole value. Our belief has been shattered.
A (marine) protected area works likewise. Half a reserve is no reserve. We can't have half the people going there to fish, whereas the other half wants to observe the fish and be friendly to them. It takes only one disbeliever to damage the reserve considerably. It shows how fragile a conservation area really is.
But the good news is that like the banknote, its value lives in our minds, and as long as we all believe in it, it will be real. The reserve lives only in our minds, and since it lives inside each and everyone of us, it has become portable. We are walking around with the fertile conservation concept in our minds, able to apply it to every situation that may arise, anywhere, anytime. How powerful!
(Invariably, children then ask me whether I always burn banknotes, and why. Then I tell them that it is worth every cent to me, that is $5 divided by the number of children and parents, if they remember the lesson.)
To Study is to Learn... To Learn is to Understand... To Understand is to Appreciate... To Appreciate is to Value... To Value is to Save
Conservation practiceThe preceding chapters have sounded the full gamut of conservation, in all its complexity and confusion, which may leave one to wonder what conservation is really all about. From its literal meaning 'to keep as is', one would think that setting aside unused parts of the planet, would suffice. But in the meantime we have learnt that by setting aside 5%, we will most likely lose 25% of our biodiversity.
Others remind us that we are living in a changing world. Why would we want to preserve its previous state? Why would we wish to live in the past? We can't go back, because everything has changed, and even going back would change it further. Why not move on and incur some losses along the way? People are not only talking about natural and human habitat conservation & restoration, but also about the conservation & restoration of culture and language. When is conservation just obstruction of progress, and when is it not? What is conservation and what is it not? What deserves conservation and what not? Fortunately, concerned people have recognised the changes that are neither beneficial to us nor to the natural world around us. They have recognised the threats, as these manifested themselves one by one, and these conservationists have done something practical that helped. Apparently, conservation can be done with common sense. The following ways of conserving may help us identify practical approaches:
Conservation =It is interesting to note at this point that there exists a great deal of difference between terrestrial and marine conservation. Terrestrial conservation is characterised by extensive human intervention, requiring a wide range of skills:
setting aside what is unused: even before problems arise, one can set aside a part which is still unused. Future generations may then be able to decide wisely what to do next. This kind of conservation requires vision, but has the highest chance of success because it works preventatively. taking threats away: problems have occurred, and are recognised as such. Human activity (proactive conservation) is needed to take the threats away in the designated conservation areas. Reserves are meant to save species. If threats remain, reserves are ineffective, regardless of size. A wilderness area may be set aside to save it from logging and burning (habitat loss). But hunting, collecting and poaching must also be stopped. Introduced pests must be exterminated too. Local communities must be engaged to play a role. This level of conservation has a good chance of succeeding, as long as the protected areas are large enough, and sufficient resources available. reducing damage and fixing problems: nothing is set aside, but human actions are modified to reduce damage. The idea is that nature can absorb and repair some damage. As long as humans do not exceed the limits, business can continue as usual. However, both human activity and human population are still increasing, requiring the fixes to become more and more effective. These fixes have a low chance of success, but should be attempted anyway.
A look at different countriesNature differs considerably from place to place across the world. Nations differ in their level of development, and by how much of their natural habitat has been cultivated. Populations differ enormously in relationship to the carrying capacity of their lands. As a result, the approach to conservation differs from country to country.
By the 1990s there were about 1500 national parks in the world, protecting about 3.9 million km2 in over 120 countries, amounting to 2.6% of the terrestrial world (149 million km2). The United Nations World Network of Biosphere Reserves now consists of 411 sites in 94 countries. The emphasis of the network is on maximizing the harmony and concord between conserving unique natural environments and human populations.
Afghanistan: 652,090km2, population (1998) 23,731,000, grew with 9 million in 20 years; density 36 people per km2. It is a country of great mountains, scorching deserts, fertile valleys, and rolling plains. Afghanistan is one of the world's least developed countries (80% rural) but most overpopulated. The fundamental Sunni muslim religion prohibits education, and most are illiterate. The country has rich mineral resources which have not been developed. Located between tall mountain ranges, the area receives 50-350mm of rain annually. Droughts of recent years have caused 5 million people to depend on foreign help for food. 3-4 million people have fled the country for neighbouring Pakistan, for reasons of famine and war. Located far away from the sea, the rain over Afghanistan depends on the moisture evaporated by the cultivated lands of Iran and Pakistan. As a result, it suffers from increasing droughts. As its population increases at maximal rates (religion prohibits birth control), the nation has outgrown its carrying capacity, facing a grim future. Soils and natural vegetation are vanishing rapidly. There are no resources and intentions for conservation.
America: Area 9,363,563 km2; population
(1998) 270 million (25% rural). Population density 29 people per km2. The
USA is the most deveopled nation in the world, and one of the largest as
well. It spans many climate zones. The USA has a Wilderness Preservation
System, comprising 643 areas, or 106 million acres, which amounts to less
than 5% of all US land. If the remaining 95% is allowed to be changed for
human use, it could give rise to a loss of 20% of all living species. Biological
hotspots like Hawaii have suffered a disproportionately high species decline
due to introduced species and habitat destruction.
Erosion of land is very high in the USA, resulting in severe threat to coastal ecosystems. South of the Mississippi River, very large Dead Zones now exist. The quality of the seawater along most beaches is so poor that they need to be closed frequently. The tropical reefs of the Florida Keys are under severe threat.
Australia: Area 7,713,364 km2,
including 67,800 km2 for Tasmania. Popuation (1998) 18,758,000 (15% rural).
Population density 2 people per km2. Australia is the only country that
is also a continent. It is a dry, thinly populated land with a huge central
desert, surrounded by semidesert zone. Australia's wildlife includes many
species of pouched animals called marsupials. It is one of the few nations
left, with a lot of unclaimed habitat. Its terrestrial conservation policy
is to reserve a minimum of 5% of the land for plant and animal life, including
areas containing every kind of plant variety found in Australia.
The Australian National Park and Wildlife Service, set up in 1975, helps
to maintain the areas controlled by the federal government and to select
key Australian landscapes and ecosystems to be conserved.
Australia pursues an active policy on marine conservation with many proposed Marine Protected Areas. However, the great Barrier Reef, for a long time held as a World Heritage Park because of its uniqueness, is now under severe threat from land erosion. As rains have become heavier in recent years, the mud plumes from rivers now extend their deposits to the outer edges of the reef. The low water quality along most of Australia's coast is threatening marine life.
The Netherlands: Area 41,447 km2. Population (1998) 15,760,000 (39% rural! Over 70% employed in service industries!). Population density 464 people per km2. Holland is a very densely populated, small, flat land with beautifully kept dwellings, public buildings, gardens and parks. In order to gain more land, the Dutch have reclaimed lakes and margins from the sea (polders). Nearly half the land lies below sea level. Holland enjoys a moist sea climate with rain in all seasons, amounting to 630-750mm per year. The Dutch are an advanced and tolerating society, well educated and enjoying a high standard of living. The Dutch have always been a seafaring nation, with overseas colonies, and active participation in whaling and fishing, which brought them welfare. Since the discovery of large natural gas reserves, Holland has made the transition to a welfare society with a knowledge economy, which may not be sustainable in the future. Although highly industrialised with clean industries, Holland is not self-sufficient in food and products, and imports these from countries with pollluting industries and agriculture with degrading soils. Holland has in this manner been spared from those kinds of pollution. However, environmental problems are experienced from dairy farming and piggeries, while intensive horticulture has taken its share. The parks and reserves in Holland are well kept and traversed with tracks for eco-friendly bicycles. However, they are no longer naturally pristine. Holland spends a fortune on making cities livable, and nature parks and wetlands effective. It has no nature parks of world stature.
New Zealand: Area 270,534 km2 (North Island
115,777 km2; South Island 151,215 km2). Population 3,683,000 (15% rural).
Population density 14 people per km2. New Zealand is a beautiful country
of snow-capped mountains, green lowlands, beaches, and many lakes and waterfalls.
No place is more than 130 kilometres from the coast, and in few places
are mountains or hills out of view. Rain falls in each season at 400-1200mm,
and in Fiordland up to 6000mm annually.
New Zealand's 10 national parks, which cover nearly 8 per cent of the country, come under a National Parks Authority, set up in 1952. New Zealand also has nearly a thousand areas reserved for their qualities of scenic interest.
New Zealand has a very large area of Exclusive Economic Zone (), which makes it fourth largest in the world. New Zealand's marine conservation strategy is to create a network of marine reserves representing all habitats in all regions. It aims to cover 10% of its seas. After 25 years of active marine conservation, less than 1% of its territorial seas (out to 13km) have been set aside. No areas in its EEZ have so far been set aside.
Note that most nations are prepared to lose 95% of their natural habitats, which may eventually lead to over 20% of species to go extinct.
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What is the purpose of conservation when others in our country are breeding like rabbits while our Government lets in streams of immigrants?