Why do we need to conserve plants and animals that are on the brink of extinction?
News programs and nature documentaries have stressed the need for helping stem the tide against the dwindling numbers of different species of flora and fauna. But have you ever stopped and wondered what exactly is the point of these efforts?
The economics of nature conservation
In a study published in 2012 in ScienceMag, experts projected that the annual cost of conserving land animals would be around $76 billion. That figure grows exponentially when you add up the value of rescuing endangered marine life.
You might think that that is such a high price to pay for something that you feel does not directly affect you. Apart from that, you may also think that the money funnelled toward conservation could be used for other seemingly more essential causes.
However, the truth is that nature conservation affects you directly in ways you might not readily see. Humans directly benefit from the preservation of natural resources in many ways.
Plants and animals provide humans with what biologists call “ecosystem services.” The most obvious of these services is food. Apart from that, plants and plankton found in the oceans and seas provide people with oxygen. Bumblebees help pollinate plants, which provide you with food.
Why do you need to support conservation efforts? According to estimates by ecologists, the cost of ecosystem services can be pegged at roughly $33 trillion annually. If you compare the costs of these ecosystem services against the annual conservation costs, it is clear that the costs outweigh the benefits.
Allowing endangered species of plants and animals to dwindle further could adversely affect the global economy.
Apart from the economic benefits, there are plenty of other reasons why you should support and take part in nature conservation efforts.
Nature conservation is not just about saving a specific species on the brink of extinction. On top of that, conservation efforts are geared toward protecting a habitat, recognizing the invisible web that ties different plants and animals together.
And for humans, that makes perfect sense, although sometimes, things may not be readily apparent.
- Take gorillas, for example. Helping protect mountain gorillas means protecting their habitat, including all the other plants and animals found there. For humans, the added benefit of this action is the protection of the hillsides that provide water to nearby villages.
- What’s more, you cannot place yourself in isolation against the other species that inhabit the planet. You are also part of a bigger ecosystem that is Earth. By helping protect and preserve natural resources, by extension, you are also protecting yourself and your interests.
- Finally, humans have and continue to play a critical role in the degradation of the environment and the extinction of several species of plants and animals. With or without humans, different species of plants and animals will and can go extinct. It has happened even before humans became the most dominant species on Earth. But what is alarming is that the rate of extinction of several plants and animals has outpaced previous rates. And a lot of that has to do with humans and their different activities.
Doing your part
In a sense, contributing to conservation efforts is a way to acknowledge your role and do something concrete to reverse what is seen by many experts as an alarming trend.
But what exactly can you do?
● Keep your cats indoors
If you own a cat, make sure that he stays indoors. Cats account for a substantial amount of bird fatalities annually.
● Switch to bird-friendly windows
Another threat faced by birds is what is called a bird strike. This occurs when a bird inadvertently flies into a glass window, resulting in death.
● Support eco-tourism initiatives
Planning a vacation? Why not add an eco-tour as a part of your holiday? This allows you to learn more about different habitats as well as the conservation efforts of different groups.
Additionally, if you are visiting a foreign country, resist the temptation to buy protected wildlife or products made from materials culled from protected species. Apart from getting you into legal trouble, you are inadvertently contributing to the extinction of animals.
● Avoid buying and using cosmetics with microbeads
Products with microbeads are marketed as effective tools for exfoliation. But unknown to many people, microbeads can end up in different bodies of water, including the seas. In turn, this can lead to the death of marine life.
● Ditch single-use plastics
Single-use plastics are considered to be one of the most severe threats against marine life. As such, consider avoiding using products that are packaged in single-use plastics.
● Support food sustainability efforts
If you eat fish and seafood regularly, find out where these products are caught. There are species of fish that are on the brink of extinction due to overfishing.
● Go to AZA zoos and aquariums
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums or AZA supports thousands of conservation efforts around the world. If you are planning a weekend activity for the family, consider visiting AZA member zoos and aquariums.
● Put trash where it belongs
That’s in the trash can. Apart from being an eyesore, scattered trash can harm birds and other animals. Some of these wind their way into waterways where they can wreak significant havoc.
Before buying anything in your household, look around for things that you can use or give a second lease on life to.
In your own little way, you can increase the awareness of people about the importance of conservation. Start with your family and friends and then move outward your network.
● Join local organizations
Alone, you can do a lot. Now consider the concerted efforts of an enlightened community through eco-volunteering. Seek out organizations and communities with advocacies that appeal to you.
Conservation is not the sole domain of non-profit organizations. As an individual, there are plenty of things that you can do to stem the tide against the extinction of different plants and animals. Every little thing counts, especially when taken as a collective action.
Rasha El Saleh is the Conservation Education and Outreach Coordinator in the education team of Emirates Nature-WWF working on its programme, Connect with Nature. She leads the outreach and youth empowerment aspect in growing the Connect with Nature community within the UAE and providing opportunities for youth to lead in this community, in addition to supporting partnerships with vendors supporting and promoting active aspects of the programme.