Conservation principles 2

by Dr J Floor Anthoni (2001)
motivation Motivation for conservation. Perceived benefits. Approaching problems with solutions from all angles. From pillage to paradise. The human dimension. Objections. Ten dilemmas.
conservation biology Principles of conservation. Conservation biology. Biotechnology. The boundary effect.
for further study sitemap: our site 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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go back to the conservation section with resource management, biodiversity, marine conservation

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Conservation: benefits, motivation, strategies, obstacles, dilemmas

Conservation is akin to problem solving, hence the emphasis on the art of solving problems on this web site, and the critical-analytical approach toward understanding the underlying issues. Conserving nature is thus related to solving problems arising from human interference. It thus combines the complexity of nature with the human dimension, which is complicated to say the least. Hence the multitude of dimensions, confusion of ideas and the widespread involvement in all facets of daily life.

From the human dimension, conservation has the following aspects:

Approaching problems with solutions from all angles
An important ecological concept is that stresses on organisms (and humans) add up. In the case of humans, we know for instance, that psychological stresses accumulate. Thus one may be perfectly able to cope with the stresses of work, and with the loss of a loved one, but the two combined may lead to a complete mental breakdown. Stresses on natural organisms work in a similar way. The extinction of a species is usually caused by a combination of factors, such as some habitat loss, some predation, a disease outbreak and some collecting for zoos. Suddenly the species is no more.

Likewise, conservation, the weapon against the decline of life, must attack from all possible angles. Take for instance the example just mentioned. Note that the causes (habitat loss + predation + disease + collection) are all independent factors, which means that none is influenced by any of the others. An improvement of 20% to each would lead to 1.2 x 1.2 x 1.2 x 1.2 = 2.07, or a 107% improvement! Quite high a success for such a moderate effort. Thus identifying all causal factors is important in solving environmental problems.

Conservationists should be warned for people's knee-jerk reaction, wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water. The present solutions are discredited entirely, and something new and unproven is put in its place. Always analyse what is good of the present situation or solution and what is not. Then maximise the good things while minimising the bad ones. How far we wish to go, depends on our vision of what we wish to achieve: free plunder or paradise?
From pillage to paradise
Conservation can be practised on a scale from plunder (take all) to paradise (leave all). It has consequences for the environment, different ways to go about it, and it has different levels of public support. The idea is discussed here relating to the sea, because this a large resource is exploiteded almost exlusively by extraction. 

What we can afford to achieve, depends on the benefits obtained, discussed next.
Benefits of conservation
Since people can no longer take from (marine) reserves the way they could, their benefits have obviously disappeared, and they want to know what good this is. If it is supposedly good for their children, then also why? The following benefits were proclaimed (note that these were all based on acceptable assumptions):
In the case study of the Goat Island Marine Reserve, we will see that many of the above assumptions have not materialised.

Conservation would have been much easier had humans not been affected. The humand dimension is indeed large and unwilling.
The human dimension
To do conservation for the benefit of nature is difficult enough, but because humans are involved in every step, the matter becomes very much more complicated. In fact, this aspect can become quite time-consuming and energy-sapping, often obscuring what the whole purpose of conservation is all about.
Human society has become more complicated over time, and will continue to do so. People have occupied every bit of land, and have also been allowed to own it. By having an interest in an area planned for conservation, or an extractable species, human lives are affected and conflicts arise. People who have a claim to be considered, call themselves stakeholders. Don't be surprised that a stakeholder can live hundreds of kilometres away from the place of conflict. Here are the human interests that need to be considered along every step:

Whereas land ownership is the main issue in land conservation, marine conservation faces all the issues listed above, because nobody owns the sea. People who use the sea, claim their rights based on the above arguments. Often false arguments are used in order to further their claims.
Sectors of society affected
The multitude of environmental threats do not just threaten the environment with loss of biodiversity and functionality, but also the economy (growth, efficiency, stability, capital) and people (wealth, health, wellbeing, human capial). No surprise then that not just ecologists have an interest in conservation:
    • Ecology: study of the management of a household’s physical resources. (Natural Sciences)
    • Economics: study of the management of a household’s financial resources. (Social Sciences)
    • Ecumenism: study of the management of a household’s moral, ethical, and spiritual resources amidst a plurality of values. An ecumenical person is one who seeks common ground as a synthesizer among various perspectives and traditions. (Philosophical Sciences)

To illustrate the complexity of (marine) conservation, consider the number of Government departments involved in conservation issues. Note that only their functions relating to conservation have been mentioned, and that government departments may have been arranged differently in different countries:

The typical set of other interested organisations: It is clear that the human dimension complicates conservation considerably. In the end, through the longevity of the consultation process, the many opinions and the many compromises accumulated on the way, one may end up with a result that nobody really wants. Note also how many people are involved, who know very little about conservation or nature. When it comes to marine reserves, most decisionmakers are armchair-conservationists, not ever having observed the marine environment or having informed themselves about it.
When confronted with the establishment of a protected area, people have many reservations and objections. It is human nature to be afraid of change and uncertainty. It is even more human for not wanting to do with less or to give up certain things.
These are the typical objections people have: When expressed in a public meeting, such arguments are hard to allay. However the situation changes completely when posing the objectors in front of their daughter's question: "Dad, why did you leave the sea in such a mess for us?". The objectors would answer according to their valid arguments above: It is amazing to see how the perspective of objections changes, in the light of our childrens' future.

(In class, I often let children (10-16 years old) decide on this, and it is amazing to see how unanimously condemning they are of such excuses)
Ten dilemmas
Scientists Elliott and Lawrence, looked at conservation in a critical way, questioning the presumed validity of conservation practices and values. These are mentioned here to illustrate some scientists' misgivings, and they are annotated by Floor Anthoni:

M Elliott, A J Lawrence: The protection of species versus habitats - dilemmas for marine scientist. Marine Poll Bull 36/3 pp174-176, 1998


Conservation biology

Conservation biology is the knowledge of natural life in relation to conservation, and thus survival. A new branch of science has sprouted from the need to fix environmental problems, and which owes its existence entirely to human activity. It studies how species, communities and populations benefit from conservation efforts and how they suffer from human practices. The studies have shown that minor concessions can result in large benefits to the natural environment, and they have also shown us better ways to go about our business. Conservation biology is a potent weapon in the concept of sustainable development, which means doing more with fewer side effects. 

The basis of conservation biology is founded in four related scientific disciplines:

Conservation biology attempts to answer the following questions, both before a change is made and after the event: Conservation biology is a new branch of science, bound to develop rapidly with the knowledge gained from an escalating succession of new environmental problems. The question remains, whether knowing more detail, will equip us better for facing the large problems looming over the horizon.
Biotechnology, the advantages created by manipulating life (=biotechnology), has given us the green revolution of improved crop productivity and disease resistance. Above all, it has made the  production of food more predictable and less subject to the vagaries of climate and disease. The question is whether biotechnology would be able to help with the conservation of natural species, by either reducing the side effects of our actions or by helping in other ways.
One argument justifying biotechnology is that, since the world has already become artificial, with very little natural habitat left, we might as well go a step further. Biotechnology covers the following fields: The promising advantages of GE are enormous, but so may be its risks. Genetic material may leak to other species, GE crops may go rampant, etc. It is not difficult to imagine a doom scenario for each of the advantages listed above, reason why humanity should proceed with utmost care, and perhaps refrain from the most risky techniques, at least until their consequences are better understood. Once the genes of a GE species have mixed with a natural population, there exists no way of undoing it.

(a separate chapter will be devoted to Genetic Engineering on this web site)
The boundary effect
The size of a reserve is not only important for its biodiversity, sustainability and resilience. It is also important to minimise the boundary effect, caused by the transition from one environment into another.
The boundary effect diagramThis diagram illustrates some aspects of the boundary effect. The green area is the reserve, surrounded by alien habitat in white. The boundary effect is shown in light green. It is caused by native species moving out or being predated upon by exotic species living in the alien habitat, or near its boundary. At the same time, exotic species move into the reserve to take up nesting space and so on. Through competition, the characteristics of the boundary will be different from those within, the pristine core.
As can be seen, the smaller the area, the more of the reserve is occupied by boundary. Thus large reserves have relatively less boundary area (B). The worst shape is that of a strip or ribbon (C), yet many reserves, especially marine reserves following coastlines, are shaped this way. Note that because the boundary runs along the outside, along the largest diameter, it will always be a large area.
It is commonly thought that two adjacent reserves can be joined to become one big one, by means of a wildlife corridor. However, if such a corridor is a narrow strip, it will be dominated by the boundary effect, resulting in a possible drain to both reserves. Wildlife will stray into the corridor, where predators will wait for it.

fish spilling out from marine parksA boundary effect, particularly relevant to marine reserves, is that of fish spilling over to the unprotected, outside area. Fishing will always occur at the boundaries of such reserves, because of it. The classical approach is that of creating a ribbon reserve around a highly diverse habitat such as a rocky shore (A). By placing the reserve boundary across the protected habitat, fish will spill out and get caught. The reason for this happening is that fish are continually competing for territories. Fish caught in the unprotected part of the rock habitat, leave empty territories behind. Fish from the protected habitat will move into these, because they do not know about reserve boundaries. Fish deeper into the reserve find adjacent territories unoccupied, and they move closer to the reserve's boundary, and so on. The result is an unexpectedly large drain from the protected area.
By contrast, if the boundary is placed across a different habitat (B), fish of the rocky habitat will be restrained naturally. They won't move into the sandy habitat, but they may forage there. As a result, the spilling over is reduced quite considerably. It follows that the placement of reserve boundaries is critical to a reserve's success, and should be chosen with care. Political compromises can do great harm.

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