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Conservation challenge: a vanishing world

vanishing
Written by: Dr Abigail Entwistle
Other posts by Dr Abigail Entwistle

Don’t look away…

Turning our back on the natural world is not an option. We all rely on nature for fresh air and water, food, commodities, and – of course – enjoyment; but nature is steadily disappearing in front of our very eyes.

Going, going, gone…

The figures are astounding. 50% of tropical forests gone. 20% of coral reefs destroyed. Over 50% of mangroves lost. Few of the world’s natural habitats remain untouched by mankind’s progress.

As we destroy wild places, so we also destroy the futures for innumerable species. Recorded extinction rates have risen over the last century; 22% of mammals and 12% of birds are now at risk of extinction. A third of all amphibians are considered to be either threatened or already extinct.

For all these groups the primary cause of extinction risk is loss of natural habitats.

Less is known about the lower organisms where species loss is likely to be much higher – some experts estimate that we are already losing some 27,000 species a year!

Squeezing the planet

Our growing human population needs space to live and feed itself; growing expectations of consumers in developed and emerging economies place additional strain on an overtaxed natural world. At this rate we risk undermining the very processes that underpin our planet’s productivity and resilience.

In our oceans, the destruction that mankind has caused is less immediately visible. However evidence now shows that over-fishing has caused declining stocks and has pushed species to the brink of extinction. The impacts of over-fishing, coupled with coastal development, bottom trawling, widespread pollution and ocean acidification (linked to global warming) now risk undermining the functioning of ocean systems.

Biting the hand that feeds

We already see examples of how loss of natural habitats leaves local human populations vulnerable – be it to landslides following the removal of hillside trees, or to coastal destruction when the protective barrier of mangroves has been cleared.

Clearing rainforests for timber and agriculture only releases more greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Globally, over 1 billion people rely on fisheries as their primary source of protein – and are at risk from the ongoing decline in fish catches.

In future habitats and species will both face risks from a changing climate. Indeed, it is now recognised that maintaining natural habitats could be a key factor in enabling not only wildlife, but also human populations, to adapt to climate change.

The need for protection

Maintaining natural habitats in the face of ongoing threats is essential.

Globally 12% of land has been set aside as protected areas. However, declaration of such areas is not enough. Without effective on-the-ground management the biodiversity and habitats of these sites will continue to be lost.

Across the world’s seas and oceans only a pitiful 0.6 per cent has been declared as protected – and again effective protection needs more than a line on the map.

Securing the future

One of FFI’s key goals is to increase the area of land and sea under effective conservation management. Join us in helping to secure a future for the world’s most threatened natural sites.

There are many different ways to ensure the survival of natural habitats. Key to success is finding the right people who will be able to manage the site into the long term, be they government agencies, communities or NGOs. However appropriate solutions will depend on the unique situation at each site.

  • Traditional approaches include supporting the establishment and/or effective management of state protected areas. However, protected areas may also be established by local NGOs, communities, individuals or even businesses.
  • In other cases formal protection is not appropriate, and conservation agreements with landowners may be a more pragmatic solution to protecting natural habitats.
  • Policy changes (such as in coastal and fisheries management) may promote the creation of no-take protected zones within marine habitats.
  • The opportunities of carbon finance through Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) schemes provide new ways to promote the protection of key forest areas.
  • Increasingly, opportunities to support communities to develop their own forms of “community protected areas” are emerging – linked to land rights, tenure and long-term sustainability of the environment on which these communities rely.
  • In parallel, some big businesses are also taking measures to better manage their own land holdings – taking active measures to protect natural habitats and species for the future.
Written by
Dr Abigail Entwistle

Abi joined FFI in 1996 after studying Zoology at Oxford University and completing a PhD in bat ecology at Aberdeen University. Since then she has held a number of roles in the organisation, and is currently Director of Conservation Science.

Other posts by Dr Abigail Entwistle
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