ecological restoration

Ecological Restoration: Missed Opportunities

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed1

As a society we spend millions upon millions of dollars each year on restoring areas back to their “natural” state. Countless paid and volunteer hours go into planting native flora species and attempting to eradicate undesirable weeds. But what if we have been doing it wrong?

Restoring an ecosystem is no easy task. There is a lot more to consider than simply planting a few hundred native species and hoping for the best. We need to consider the current state of the ecosystem. Has this ecosystem crossed a threshold in which simple restoration processes would not provide a suitable solution? How much has the hydrology, geology, biology and climate changed within the ecosystem? We also need to consider whether the ecosystem can be restored using previously existing fauna and flora species or whether the regions climate has changed too much.

Often when considering a restoration project, we try to pin point a segment in time in which to restore back to. Whether this be 50 years ago, before industrial revolution or prior to settlement. When considering this point in time, it’s often forgotten just how much as changed within any given area. Much of the earths biological, chemical, hydrology, climate and geology has changed immensely, often to a point in which it can not be reversed. So rather the restoring to a particular point in the past, we should instead be restoring to current conditions. This may mean using plant species that may not be considered “native” to the region, but species that are more tolerant to current conditions.

Simply planting fauna species does not result in a successful restoration. We need to consider the deeper biological processes involved in an ecosystem. It’s the microscopic processes that we often overlook which are of the utmost importance. Organisms that we don’t often see play a vital role in restoration processes and the introduction of species progression and restoration trajectory. Again, when considering appropriate organisms, we need to take into account that changed that have occurred and will continue to occur within the ecosystem.

Each ecosystem consists of it’s own unique attributed and processes. It is therefore not overly constructive to completely copy restoration projects between differing sites. Each site needs its own project outlook and planning as no two sites will contain the exact same attributes. To assist with each restoration project, it’s important to implement adequate initial evaluation and monitoring prior to any restoration proceeding. Care must first be taken to understand the species that currently occur, why they occur and what other species may also be successful within the site.

One aspect of restoration we seem to fail in is the sharing of information. In this day in age it surprised me just how isolated ecological restoration is. We should have large national and international wide databases in which practitioners are able to share restoration successes and failures to enable future learning opportunities. The sharing of such information could save money, frustration and many man hours of work.

So why aren’t we considering these changes? Are humans too set in their ways? Or is the idea of change simply too much? In many cases it simply comes down to money and changes in government. Often a restoration is given a specific amount of funding in which to complete a project within a given time frame. This funding and time frame is generally only enough to undergo a basic restoration project and does not include more in-depth research, monitoring or evaluation. We also tend to see governments providing funding for projects which, when new government enters parliament, is changed or ceased in favour of different projects. When will we learn that restoration does not come with a time frame, it’s forever evolving and our lack of flexibility will only continue to hamper our restoration efforts into the future.

 

 

1 McDonald, T., Gann, G. D., Jonson, J. & Dixon, K. D. (2016). International standards for the practice of ecological restoration – including principles and key concepts. Washington: Society for Ecological Restoration.

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Do Zoos Still Serve A Purpose?

Recently in Australia Bong Su, a bull elephant, was euthanised due to ongoing arthritis issues1 at the age of 432. In the wild, if all goes well, an elephant can live for between 60 to 70 years3 which begs the questions, did captivity shorten Bong Su’s life and are traditional zoo’s still important?

Firstly, let us define what a zoo is. For the purpose of this blog, I like this definition:

…”zoos” means all permanent establishments where animals of wild species are kept for exhibition to the public for 7 or more days a year…4

This includes traditional zoos, drive-through safari parks, aviaries, snake parks, insect collections, aquariums, birds of prey centres and all other areas in which animals are displayed to the public5.

So, with the formalities out of the way, we can now discuss the roles that zoos play, whether these roles warrant the captivity of animals and to what extent these zoos should contain these animal species.

Zoos play an important role within society. Not only do they provide a form of entertainment, but their educational and conservation roles are also imperative. The information passed on to many of the zoos visitors provides them with a connection to wild species that they may not have received elsewhere. I believe that these connections are often underestimated. If, for instance, you had never had an interaction with a Koala, would you care about their conservation? Having this connection, would you not feel saddened when reading about their habitat destruction? But in saying this, even with such a connection, how many people would actually go out of their way to assist in restoring the koala’s habitat? Unless there was a way to help the koala’s there and then, say in the form of fundraising or partition signing, most of us would loss much of the connection as soon as we left the zoo.

One particular zoo in Victoria, Australia, provided a terrific educational program, not based on specific animal species as such, but more on a particular environmental message which was then linked to an animal species. For instance, the message at one exhibit was based on balloons being released onto the air and the effect it has on birds and ocean species. This message was delivered with the help of a captive platypus….brilliant! The platypus made the message fun resulting in it being remember, especially by children. More zoos need to think creatively about the educational information that they are trying to delivery rather than the old….this tiger eats a total of blah blah kilos of meat a day and can live up to blah blah years of age. Although this is important information, it’s not exactly exciting or helping a greater cause.

The conservation roles of many zoos is extremely important, particularly in regards to threatened and near extinct species. Research and captive breeding programs has ensured the longevity of many species.  For instance, the Orange Bellied Parrot has been captively bred in an Australia zoo since 19946. The parrots that are bred here serve as both an insurance population and to be release into the wild6. With only approximately 50 individuals remaining in the wild, the release of captive bred individuals is crucial to the species survival.

But the burning question is, is the captivity of wild species worth the outcome? Should we cage some individuals so that others can be saved? And, are we doing it right?

Ultimately, I believe that zoos are required because, as humans, we need to be rewarded for everything we do. We would not simply just give a zoo money for the purpose of conservation, without the reward of viewing the animals. We need to feel that we are receiving value for our money, even if this value is in the form of a caged animal. With this investment, zoos are then able to continue their quests to resolve conservation issues, such as captive breeding programs. In saying this, zoos do generally abide by strict rules and regulations and in many cases the species being displayed has been rescued. But at the end of the day, it’s a wild species in a non-natural environment.

Now, back to Bong Su for a moment. This was an almost five tonne animal that was kept within an inner city traditional zoo. This zoo did not have the capacity to provide such an animal with “natural” conditions. So the question begs to be answered…..would such an animal not be better suited to an open range safari type setup? This then leads to another question…..being a large draw card to the zoo, would management have been willing to release the animal to an open range zoo at an economical risk? It’s important to remember, that as much as a zoo is important to conservation, it is still after all a business.

So to answer the question…. Do Zoo’s Still Serve A Purpose? Yes, they do. However, the way that this purpose is served needs to be addressed. I sincerely believe that zoos and their personnel have the animal’s best interests in mind, but only with revenue can zoos perform to their full potential. This revenue is gained by providing the general public their much longed-for value for money.

 

1 Herald Sun

2 The Age

3 All About Wildlife

4 Council Directive 1999/22/EC (Zoos Directive) as in Rees, P. A. (2011). An Introduction to zoo biology and management. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.

5 Rees, P. A. (2011). An Introduction to zoo biology and management. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.

6 Zoos Victoria

Featured image source: http://www.saidaonline.com/

overpopulation

Overpopulation: At what point do we stop reproducing?

“Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, maybe we should control the population to ensure the survival of our environment”

Sir David Attenborough 

It is no secret that the world’s population continues to grow. At the time of this blog, the world’s population stood at 7.5 billion1. On the day this blog post was written:

·         274,843+ people were born1

·         113,877+ people died1

Giving the world a net profit of over 161,200 people in under one day1! The worlds population net growth this year so far is sitting at over 65,258,2341. At this rate is it projected that the world will have 9.7 billion by the year 20502. With a growing population comes an increasing demand on our natural resources such as oil, coal, gas, water and land. But it’s not just these demands that are putting pressure on the world’s finite resources. As a society we appear to be over consuming. We live in a time were bigger is better, more is desirable and cheaper is beneficial. Our cars are bigger, we put too much food on our plates and we buy items that sit unused in our cupboards. We want instant gratification. If was can’t have it now, we don’t want it at all. Not only are we consuming more within our life times, with assistance of medical science and technology, we are now living longer. Therefore, we are consuming more over a longer period of time.

At what point do we stop. Do we wait till there is no more readily available fresh water, or when we have completely removed our forests, mangroves, grasslands and tundras or is it when our climate has forever changes how we live our lives? Can society itself make the changes that are required to save our environment and ecosystems, or do we need to rely on Governments and organisations to instruct and govern. Or is it already too late. Have we crossed the threshold of no return?

This problem is larger than an individual person, yet it will take individuals to make a difference. But what do we need to change to make the biggest impact? Through education and technology, we as a society, have become better at recycling and reusing rubbish and unwanted goods. We now make attempts to use public transport, walk and cycle to our destination points. Industry, in most parts, are now more conscious of the chemicals they are releasing into the environment. But is this enough or do we need to make some drastic changes? We could perhaps be contributing more to sex education and contraception programs to reduce the amount of accidental and unwanted pregnancies. Or, somewhat at the extreme level, should governments be limiting the amount of children per family? Professor John Guillebaud stated that “a two child maximum is the greatest contribution anyone can make to a habitable planet for our grandchildren”3. These types of programs have been used previously in Vietnam and Hong Kong with the Chinese encouraging only one child per family during the 1970s. Personally, I think it’s an idea that definitely needs to be explored as a global guideline. Making it a hard and fast rule would be difficult and enforcement would be problematic. Cutting off government family assistance payments after two children could be one form of encouragement and possible tax breaks for those that choose to have one or no children. But this does not address the reproduction in third world countries. These countries may benefit from reproduction education instead. But it also raised ethical and religious questions.

I believe that we are currently merely tip toeing around the overpopulation issue and attempting to make small chips into the problem. Governments and organisations appear to be more concerned with their public appearance than making significant changes at the risk of falling out of favour with the general public. We can continue to cut emissions, recycle, construct desalination plants and convert to environmentally passive energy sources, but is this really doing enough to ensure the survival of our environment?

What would your solution be? Do you believe that society is capable of a solution?

 

Worldometer

2 United Nations 

3 The Telegraph 

Feature Image Source: https://curiousmatic.com/