Our planet is endowed with many resources from the mountains to the seas.We are very blessed because we have everything that we need to survive. But as time passed by, we noticed that our resources, our environment, is slowly degrading and depleting. Over the years, a great percentage of our environment has been lost due to human activities. And one ecosystem of our environment that has constantly been depleting through time is our rainforests.
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Rainforests are defined ecologically by the Department of Sustainability and Environment of Australia as “closed (>70 percent projective foliage) broad-leaved forests vegetation with a continuous rainforest tree canopy of variable height, and with a characteristic diversity of species and life forms”. It is usually found in wet tropical regions around the Equator specifically in South and Central America, West and Central Africa, Indonesia, parts of Southeast Asia and tropical Australia where the climate is relatively humid with no marked seasonal changes (Britanica Encyclopedia).
There are several layers that can be observed in a rainforest. The highest layer is called the canopy which extends across the treetops at a height of 100-165 feet wherein animals are found to reside in the leaves and branches of the trees. Beneath the canopy is the thick understory which is usually filled with trees, lianas and epiphytes. At the lowest level is the ground where a thin layer of humus soil and fallen leaves can be found. Most of the animals found in this layer are usually adapted to walking and climbing in short distances (Britanica Encyclopedia).
These lush forests serve as an important habitat to many organisms from minute bacteria to huge mammals including wildlife. According to the Guiness Encyclopedia (182), there are at least two million different species of plants and animals that exists in rainforests and only one in six of which have been identified and named. Moreover, rainforests are important ecosystems that are needed to support the balance within the planet. Rainforests also helps in reducing global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Over the years, it has been recorded that the global rainforest is declining. According to Lanly, Singh, and Janz, 17 million hectares of forests are destroyed each year (qtd in Vanclay 4). Vanclay in his article “Saving the Tropical Forest: Needs and Prognosis” emphasized that Africa has the highest rate of destruction (1.7% per year) but the largest deforested area is in tropical America (4).
The degradation of our rainforests could pose harmful effects to our planet and to us as well. Many abusers of our rainforests do not know or they just pretend not to know the possible consequences of rainforests degradation. A major effect of this, is the lost of habitat of many plants and animals which could lead to extinction. As mentioned, rainforests are one of the richest ecosystems in the world. If deforestation will continue with its current phase, numerous flora and fauna will lost its home and would probably cause an imbalance in the system. We are all connected in this what we call web of life. Thus, a loss in the system can cause deleterious effects to the other organisms.
Aside from the loss of habitat, the continuous degradation of our rainforests could hasten the global warming. Trees are major users of carbon dioxide. They need it in order for them to survive. With this, the carbon dioxide that is present in the atmosphere is relatively reduced. In an editorial in by New York Times, it was emphasized that “forests withholds carbon dioxide that would add to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere”. With this, the more trees there are in the forests the more carbon dioxide will be reduced.
There are many results of deforestation. Some of it we can directly feel its effects while others we need to wait for years before we can feel its results. One indirect result of deforestation is increase in flooding. In 1980, the height of the annual flood crest of the Amazon at Iquitos has increased together with the increased in deforestation in the area. The imbalance was caused by increased in water runoff due to deforestation (Gentry and Lopez-Parodi 1354). To date, about 14% of the Amazon is deforested (Wuethrich) and logging is still on going in the Amazon which could possibly mean that there is a constant increase in water levels in the area.
In addition, landslides and flash floods also occur in areas where heavy deforestation is present. Trees strengthen the soil. It also absorbs water and prevents such disaster from happening. More importantly, trees also prevent soil erosion which is very important for the coastal environment. Soil erosion has a negative impacts or corals as it can cause siltation in the water. Siltation is a kind of situation in the marine environment where there are high concentrations of particles in the water column. These particles may block the sunlight that is needed by the corals and it may block the feeding apparatus of the corals. In this situation, it is not just the animals that are present in rainforests that gets affected but also other ecosystems as well. It should be noted that all things in this planet, biotic or abiotic, are connected with each other. Thus, destruction in one ecosystem could lead to the destruction of the other ecosystems.
However, despite all the mentioned facts and effects of deforestation, many are still abusing the rainforests. Many industries that use trees are usually in opposition to those showing concern for our rainforests. They are looking at rainforests as an income generating material that needs to be used. In an online article, it was argued that “rainforests are worth more money dead than alive” (Fighting Deforestion 1). It was mentioned on this online article that in order to produce a Sunday edition of the New York Times, it takes approximately 7,500 trees to print it. Isn’t that too many? Trees don’t grow very fast and with the increasing demand for paper, the rate of recovery for our rainforests may not be enough to cope up with the growing demand.
However, according to Vanclay (4), the real causes of rainforests degradation are poverty and over population, corruption and greed, imperialism, bureaucracy, ignorance and carelessness and international policy. According to him, the world’s populations are already using almost half of the terrestrial primary productivity which in the long run could be double or even tripled. He also emphasized that corruption and greed plays a vital role in the current situation that we are facing. He emphasized that landowners, influential elite and multinational corporations are also instrumental in shaping the future of the forests. He points out that these people are working underground so that it won’t be noticed but to some extent the influence becomes very evident.
Furthermore, the influence of highly developed countries to developing countries also plays a crucial role for rainforests. Develop countries usually imports numerous raw materials from developing countries without thinking of the possible effects it will bring. They take advantage over the innocence of the 3rd world countries. Industrialized countries are importing abundant raw forests materials but paying the under developed countries a very low amount which sometimes could not compensate for the gathered resources
Aside from these, another cause of rainforests destruction is drought. According to scientists, climate has been varying through time. In the Amazon, nearly one-half of the rainforest is at its physiological minimum for water, receiving just enough rainfall to survive. Trees in the southern, eastern, and north-central regions send roots down through 8 or 10 meters of soil to soak up moisture during rainless months which makes them susceptible to drought. In addition, these are also the regions where El Niño droughts have great impacts. Aside from the Amazon, other areas such as Indonesia, is also affected by these droughts (Wuethrich). With global warming and El Niño, our forests are really in big trouble unless we do something.
According to statistics, sixty-four acres of rainforest are cut down every minute and would probably be gone within the next fifty years ( Fighting Deforestation) if mitigating actions are not planned and implemented. Risks of our rainforests are caused by a combination of almost everything, both anthropogenic and natural causes. Interactions among fire, El Niño-driven drought, and fragmentation are increasingly putting tropical forests at risk (Wuethrich). In addition to this, logging and the use of fuelwood further increases the threats to our rainforests (Vanclay 2).
Our rainforests is in a bleak situation unless we do something right to preserve it. Vanclay (10) in his article mentioned that much of the solutions in saving our rainforests lies in the application of a few simple and well established principles. He put emphasis on the idea that the principles are simple but the applications are a bit complicated. He stressed that successful implementation of any solution will require patience, understanding and the co-operation of many individuals and institutions.
Plantations, portable sawmill, tropical timber bans, labeling, sustainable timber production are some of the possible solutions to our degrading rainforests. Alternative solutions could be land tenure, agricultural production, information, stability and outlook and research (Vanclay 10-12). These are possible solutions to the depleting rainforests in our planet. However, in implementing these possible solutions, one has also to consider human activities and interactions in the area. Social preparation is a very important tool in doing resource management. Local communities play a vital role in the implementations of these solutions since they are the first hand users of these resources. Information, education and communication campaign on rainforests is also necessary.
Valuation or putting monetary values to live rainforests should also be done so that the populace will have an idea how much will be lost if the rainforests are destroyed. Moreover, eco-tourism would also be an important factor in preventing rainforests to be damaged. People need to appreciate the beauty of nature so that he can appreciate its value. A well manage eco-tourism in rainforests could provide jobs to local communities which in turn could lessen the pressure on the forests.
The future of our rainforests lies within our hands. If we're going to save rainforests, we have to be motivated by something more powerful than money, but more rare: Love (Fighting Deforestation). Are we just going to let some few capitalists rule over the resources that everyone needs? Will we allow them to over shadow us? When our rainforests will be destroyed we are going to face one of the greatest catastrophes in the planet. And whether we like it or not, we will all face the consequences for the actions of the few. Would we allow this happen? This is a great challenge for all of us. Let’s not lose our rainforests; much of our future depends on it.
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