If you are a nature lover, then you have probably visited one or many of the world’s living ecosystems – or you could be living in one of them even if you are in an urban setting. So, it is important to know what an ecosystem is.
This year marks the start of a 10-year international campaign, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to stop and reverse the decline of our natural ecosystems. It will be officially launched on World Environment Day on June 5.
In simple definition, an ecosystem is a community where living organisms such as plants, animals, including human beings, live, coexist, and interact, along with other non-living forms that make up the web of life.
The impact of human activities on the environment has placed many ecosystems in peril and thus, efforts to restore them require the support and cooperation of individuals and organizations to ensure that the biodiversity in ecosystems are preserved for the next generations. Ecosystems are also important in climate protection, and thus reviving them plays a crucial role in the global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
There are many ways to contribute towards restoring local ecosystems. Some practical guides from the UN suggest three pathways: actions or conservation initiatives, our choices in our lifestyle and behaviour towards restoration, and voices or our efforts to increase awareness about our ecosystems and the need to protect them.
Here are some of the main types of ecosystem you can choose to support and revive:
Forests and their life-sustaining trees.
One of the biggest threats to forests’ survival is deforestation as more of them are cleared and converted to agricultural lands to feed human consumption. One of the ways to reduce this pressure on forests is to reexamine our food choices that directly impact forests. Our consumption choices can send a message to governments and businesses that we prefer sustainable products that restore forests, rather than destroy them.
Farmands and soil systems.
The pressure on farmlands to produce high-yielding crops has led to the degradation of soil, and thus it has become ineffective in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Soil erosion and excessive use of chemicals for farming are two of the most common threats to farmlands. One key step to restoring our soils is to promote the use of natural fertilizers and pest control, as well as diversifying the planting of crops and trees to rebuild natural carbon storage.
Oceans and coasts.
On the water front, oceans and coasts which form part of our marine ecosystems are threatened by climate change, industrial pollution as well as plastic waste, and overconsumption of marine life as food. The call for sustainable fishing and harvesting has long been established, but these efforts need to be amplified in order to create an impact. Mangroves and coral reef restorations are key initiatives that can be supported by organizations and individuals alike to restore our marine systems.
Rivers and lakes.
They are called freshwater ecosystems which nourish and bring water and nutrients to farms and habitats surrounding them. They are sources of water, food, and protect villages from soil erosion. Healthy and flowing rivers are deeply impacted by the construction of large dams, disrupting its flow and ability to sustain life forms downstream.
Cities and towns may have developed into hyper advanced communities with technology and infrastructure supporting them, yet urban settings are home to many species. Restoring green areas such as parks, waterways and areas for vegetation are crucial to maintain the sustainability of cities and allow biodiversity to flourish, as well as provide nature-inspired recreational areas to residents.
There are many other ecosystems that are gravely affected by human activities such as peatlands, wetlands, deserts, grasslands and savannahs, and mountains. Through the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, everyone is encouraged to make a commitment to restore these precious areas to bring back the balance in the planet.