Damage to Ecosystem

Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet and its people are. Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.

Earth’s ecosystems are currently threatened by people’s indiscriminate development. 1 million species—5% from the land and 66% from the sea—are on the verge of extinction due to the damage of ecosystem. Scientists predict that if one million species disappear, it will rapidly deteriorate the order of natural ecosystems, and by 2050, people may face a severe shortage of food and water, particularly in Africa and South Asia (“Global Modeling of Nature’s Contributions to People”).

Pandemic and Ecosystem

Experts say that the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread across the world, is linked to ecosystem destruction and environmental pollution.
Zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, SARS, and Ebola result from cross-species transmission of pathogens between humans and other vertebrate animals. These infectious diseases emerge as wild animals with viruses are frequently expelled from their habitats due to the destruction of ecosystem.
Thus, many say that restoring and protecting nature is essential to preventing future pandemics. (An article published in PNAS by Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in U.S.)
Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist, said, “In less-disturbed landscapes with more animal diversity, these risky reservoirs are less abundant and biodiversity has a protective effect.” Dr. Felicia Keesing emphasized, “As we rebuild our communities after COVID-19, we need to have firmly in mind that one of our best strategies to prevent future pandemics is to protect, preserve, and restore biodiversity.”

As humanity suffers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the planet is staggered by three crisis: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. There has never been a more urgent need to revive the damaged ecosystems than now.

Ocean Ecosystem

The oceans hold about 97.5% of Earth’s water, and cover 71% of Earth’s surface. It is also a huge ecosystem in which many living things are living. About 99% of all living things on Earth live in the oceans.

“Rising sea levels threaten entire countries. Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, causing coral bleaching and reducing biodiversity . . . Fisheries in some places are collapsing.”

said the UN Secretary General, António Guterres.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climage Change (IPCC) reported that since 1993, the rate of ocean warming has increased more than doubled (likely), causing ocean acidification and other damages. Due to these facts, the marine ecosystem is deteriorating rapidly.

When the global temperature rises, a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is dissolved in seawater, the hydrogen ion concentration [pH] of the seawater drops, and the sea is eventually acidified. This chemical change dissolves calcium carbonate, threatening the life of sea creatures that consist of calcium carbonate such as shells or coral reefs.

The UN has warned that if the global temperature rise reaches 1.5°C [34.7°F], 90% of the world’s corals will be wiped out. Warmer oceans lead to coral bleaching, leaving reefs, fish, and the communities who depend on these resources at life-threatening risk. Coral reefs are very much the rainforests of the oceans. They provide shelter and food for a third of all sea creatures, including 4,000 species of fish. Thus, the destruction of coral reefs leads to destruction of the sea. By 2030, with nearly 60% of the world’s coral reefs will face very high or critical threat levels.

Stretching over 2,300 km [1,400 miles], the Great Barrier Reef was designated a World Heritage site in 1981 for its enormous scientific and intrinsic importance.
But in recent ten years, it had lost more than half of its corals since 1995 due to warmer seas driven by climate change, which killed off coral and dispersed other marine life.

The damage caused by ocean warming is not just for coral reefs. According to an international journal, “Nature Climate Change,” declining sea ice is likely to decrease polar bear number. It is also predicted that most polar bears in the Arctic will become extinct by 2100 as the Arctic sea ice continues to shrink at alarming rates.

The effects of green algae and red tides, including pollution and damage, is more severe than ever. In the warm sea, algae that use debris flowing into the shore as nutrients multiply, and green algae and red tide occur. Green algae or red tide blocks the sunlight that goes into water, which reduces oxygen dissolved in water, causing fish and other marine life not to breathe. Green algae can cause odor problems, which destroys surrounding ecosystems. Some algal species produce toxins that have harmful effect on livestock or wild life near by. Due to the recent global warming, this phenomenon is becoming more frequent.

The marine ecosystem is severely damaged by not only climate change but also plastic waste produced by humans.
Humans produce lots of plastic. According to the report announced by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2017, about 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950–the weight of roughly a billion elephants or 47 million blue whales, the biggest animal in the world. The production of plastic has skyrocketed, reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015. It is expected that plastic production will continue to increase, likely doubling by 2025. According to the Plastics–the Facts 2016, which is an analysis of European plastics production, demand, and waste data, 39.9% of plastic products are from packaging. There are plastics for building & construction (19.7%), automotive (8.9%), electrical & electronic (5.8%), and agriculture (3.3%).

Among them, 80% end up in landfills. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the oceans every year. The equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the oceans every minute. Plastic waste doesn’t decompose, but instead, it floats on the sea. There are five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans–enough to circle Earth over 400 times.
Two great garbage patches are floating in the Pacific Ocean located between Japan and the Northern part of Hawaii. They are called Great Pacific Garbage Patch [GPGP]. As the garbage from all over the world is captured in the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually move debris toward the center, and it became like an island.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] in U.S. estimates that there is about 100 million tons of debris in GPGP. The debris is very diverse such as plastic bottles, waste tires, discarded nets, toys, and 90% of it is plastic.
This garbage patch is getting bigger and bigger. The New York Times reported that the Pacific garbage patch doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas.

Marine debris is not just gathered, but it destroys the habitats of sea animals and threatens their lives.
Sea animals cannot distinguish food from plastic. Also they cannot sort it out, using their hands, feet, or tools. Tiny polystyrene pieces look like fish eggs or small creatures, and plastic bags look like jellyfish or squid in the water. Mistaking these wastes as food, sea animals swallow them and always feel full with indigestible plastics in their stomachs. Eventually, they die of malnutrition. Large animals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and sea turtles too inadvertently swallow this garbage that their intestines are injured by sharp plastic pieces and sometimes they come to die.
Birds suffer harm, too. Plastic waste gradually crumbles under UV light, and birds mistake it as food and swallow it. Because plastic is filling, birds will eventually starve to death. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that countless dead birds were found around Hawaiian Islands, filling their bellies up with plastics.

According to the report, “Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics” published by the United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP] in May 2016, it has been estimated that in 2010 alone, between 4.8–12.7 million metric tons of plastic found their way into our oceans. If current trends continue, it is estimated that the ratio of plastic to fish will be fifty-fifty in 2050.
Microplastics float in the sea and are eaten by sea creatures, but they accumulate in their bodies without being digested, and eventually spread throughout the ecosystem by being eaten by predators on the food chain. Eventually, this will have a devastating effect on the marine ecosystem.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF], eight million tonnes of plastic pollution ends up in the ocean every year, and we are also consuming approximately five grams of plastic a week, which is the equivalent of a credit card.

Forest Ecosystem

Forests and trees make Earth liveable, providing us with clean air and water. By storing vast amounts of carbon and moderating the climate, they are a critical defence against global heating.
Forests are home to 10–15% of all known plants, mammals, and birds. That’s why they are called “treasure chests of biodiversity.” They also provide shade, recreation and a sense of well-being. And they support the livelihoods of billions of people around the world.

However, forest ecosystems are under intense pressure from our rising population and its hunger for more land and resources. Globally, we are losing about 4.7 million hectares of tropical forests every year, an area the size of the Dominican Republic or Slovakia, often to make space for agricultural commodities such as palm oil and beef.
Many remaining forests are degraded because of logging, firewood cutting, pollution and invasive pests. Even trees outside forests are disappearing to make way for houses, roads and dams and for intensive agriculture. Wildfires, which are made worse by climate change, can devastate forest ecosystems.

The impact of wildfires on living things are extremely destructive. They kill all living things, causing disturbances in the forest ecosystem as a whole, and causing all the existing living things to disappear. Wildfires indiscriminately eliminate all endemic, rare, and endangered species. Without biodiversity, the entire ecosystem would be destroyed. If animals and plants disappear from the Earth, humans can never survive.
After a wildfire, it is best to make a natural recovery, but it is very difficult to wait indefinitely because of the risk of landslides and flood damage during the rainy season.

In the case of a general fire, the forest can be restored on its own if enough young trees survive. However, if the young trees do not survive, smoke or other gases from the fire can dry the air over kilometers. Healthy forests can make rain on their own, replenishing burned or damaged areas. However, if a fire-damaged forest can no longer function that way, the dry air will cause fires everywhere, even in remote places. There will be no way to stop the fire and restore the forest.

Forest fires are not the only cause of deforestation. Other forms of deforestation are also caused by logging and building infrastructure such as roads for growing cities.

The National Institute for Space Research [INPE] reported that deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil surged to its highest level since 2008; a total of 11,088 sq km (4,281 sq miles) of rainforest were destroyed due to illegal logging for a year since August 2019.
It sounds depressing, but it is predicted that deforestation will accelerate. In order to expand transportation infrastructure, it is projected that 25 million km of new paved roads will be developed globally by 2050. In addition, 246 hydroelectric dams are under construction nearby Amazon. The newly built infrastructure will increase illegal logging and deforestation more rapidly.

What is worse, slow violence over a long period of time such as drought and flood, which was caused by the rise of temperature, is currently destroying the forest ecosystem. The National Institute of Forest Science in Korea reported that 18 million hectares of British Columbia’s forests in Canada were damaged for 10 years since 2000 because of the rise in temperatures.
In New Mexico, Connecticut, Arizona, and California, U.S. dead trees, mainly coniferous forests, made most of the forests turn brown. In 2008, Central Europe experienced the most severe drought since records began in 2003, and millions of trees withered away in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland in particular.

“The State of the Global Climate 2020” report released by the World Meteorological Organization [WMO] explained that the cumulative effect of deforestation would reduce biodiversity and lead to unknown diseases such as Ebola virus, SARS and AIDS. According to the Financial Times, some 1.6 million viruses are present in mammals and birds and about 700,000 of those could potentially infect humans. This is considerable concern about the emergence of pathogens caused by forest loss.

World Environment Day

World Environment Day, which started in 1987, originated from a sense of crisis that global environmental pollution is becoming more and more serious around the world due to rapid industrialization in the 1970s. On June 5, 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment [UNCHE] was held in Stockholm, Sweden with the theme “Only, One Earth.” At that time, the conference was attended by about 1,300 government representatives from 113 countries. As a result of the conference, the “Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration)” was adopted to solve problems such as pollution caused by human economic activities at a global level. Also they made the United Nations Environment Program [UNEP], which specializes in global environmental issues, agreed to raise an environmental fund, and established the World Environment Day.
The United Nations Environment Program [UNEP], established in accordance with this resolution, began to celebrate the World Environment Day on June 5 when the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held, and it has held various events since 1987.

Nature and Our Lives

“Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive. For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinked environmental crises—climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution that threaten our viability as a species. They are caused by unsustainable production and consumption.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterress

The food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature. Nature has provided clean water to humans, preserved coast and supported agriculture through crop pollination. Each year, marine plants produce more than half of the Earth’s oxygen, a mature tree cleans air by absorbing 22 kg of carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen in exchange.
Despite all the benefits that nature gives us, we are still neglecting it.

When our ecosystem is destroyed by nature, it can be recovered by itself after a certain time, but when it is destroyed by humans, it takes a very long time to recover or in some cases, it is impossible to recover. If the ecosystem is destroyed, the number of species decreases, making it a land of death. Humans depend on nature to live, and if living things cannot survive, humans cannot survive either.

We cannot turn back time. But we can grow trees, green our cities, rewild our gardens, change our diets, and clean up rivers and coasts. We are the generation that can make peace with nature.
This is our moment. Let’s join restoration of ecosystem through World Environment Day. Let’s get active, not anxious. Let’s be bold, not timid.