How successful can the management of fragile environments can be?
How successful can the management of fragile environments be, given the constant and increasing demand for their exploitation? A fragile environment is an area where the flora and fauna have adapted to a specific climate and evolved to occupy many different niches due to extremely high competition for resources.Furthermore due to the constant abiotic conditions, specialisation and symbiotic relationships have occurred to such a degree that even the slightest ecological or environmental disruption cannot be accommodated, meaning individual habitats and ecosystems can be easily destroyed.
This combination of specialisation and interdependence increases the overall fragility and vulnerability of this biome Fragile environments can be exploited in different ways, and for different reasons.For example the Amazon Rainforest, an equatorial tropical rainforest biome, has been significantly exploited for its agricultural potential and natural resources; cattle ranching, soya bean and palm oil plantations, mining and timber.
The most significant consequence of these forms of exploitation is deforestation.
There are many management strategies to combat deforestation, popular choices are; legislation, ecotourism, selective logging and various tree regeneration schemes. In this essay I will assess the extent to which these management schemes are successful in terms of sustainability and environmental effectiveness, in light of inevitable increasing anthropogenic pressures on tropical biomes around the world. Firstly it is important to identify how fragile environments are exploited and for what gain. If we look at the Amazon Rainforest, one of the major forms of exploitation is land for cattle ranching.
Vast expanses of the rainforest are deforested to make way for grassland to rear cattle. This form of exploitation was responsible for 80% of all Amazonian deforestation in 2009, due to the ever increasing global demand for beef as a new wave of middle classes emerge from developing nations with a first world diet. Large soya bean plantations run by major agricultural TNC’s like Cargill in the Amazon increase its land for plantations at rates of 1. 3 million hectares every year. Brazil is one of the world’s top producers of soya bean.
The expansion of this market is driven by low transportation costs from improved infrastructure (both in and out of the Amazon) and increasing international demands for livestock feed where China is one of the main consumers, due to rapid economic growth (9% annually) and high demand from its emerging middle classes. The creation of huge mechanised soy monocultures has already been the sole cause of 21 million hectares of deforested rainforest in Brazil and 80 million hectares from the Amazon as a whole, since the early 1970’s.
While these industries stated above as well as mining and logging have contributed to 240,000km2 of deforestation in the Amazon, the hunting for bush meat by native Amazonian tribes has put considerable pressure on rainforest fauna. Since the late 1990’s Brazilian Amazon local people consume between 2. 2 to 5. 4 million primates each year. This process is unsustainable as the primates reproduce at a much slower rate than they are consumed. Moreover some of these primates are endangered, meaning reproduction is inherently slower.
There is often a conflict of interests between the exploitation and conservation of fragile environments. Thus in order for a fragile environment to be managed successfully a balance must be established. However, in reality this can be difficult to achieve. It is often the case that many countries depend on natural resources from fragile environments for income and trade on the global markets thus making fragile environments an integral part of their economy. This is the case with many LEDC’s, who are reluctant to stop exploiting their activities for fear it will result in economic decline and slower development.
In Brazil for example, much of the mining industry that takes place in the Amazon brought in $9 billion to the country in 2006. Moreover it can be a misunderstanding that most people, who exploit fragile environments like through mining in the Amazon, are doing so out of choice. As most locals have no other viable alternative to generate income for their families. Furthermore indigenous peoples often receive little education regarding global affairs and may not recognise the need for conservation. In addition it is rare that a single fragile environment is endemic to one country, as they often span over several territories.
A good example is the Amazon rainforest which lies within Brazil, holding 60% of the forest, Peru 13%, Columbia 10% and with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana also holding small amounts. This makes it difficult to establish a uniform strategy across the whole are, and made harder still by low funds available for conservation in many of these countries.
One of the more popular forms of conservation management is conservation reserves that protect biodiversity and ensure its population lives sustainably with their environment. One example of such a scheme is the Central Amazon Conservation complex in the Brazilian Amazon. Established in 2003, it brings together four reserves in the Amazon; Jau National Park, Anavilhanas Ecological Station, Mamiraua Reserve and Amana reserve, a total area of 49,000 km2. Sustainable development reserves have protected areas from developments that could have seriously damaged the CACC. Dams, pipelines, mines and commercial logging projects have all been prevented from entering the area.
These reserves have improved biodiversity and caused a 100% increase in the black caiman population, and a 300% increase in the pirarucu fish. Economic Alternatives Programs promote sustainable activities whereby local people who make goods from the forest’s natural resources can sell directly to buyers without going through ‘middle men’ who charge a commission. Thus ensuring a decent income, preventing any local farmers giving up land to major commercial agricultural firms, where the land is likely to be deforested and indigenous communities displaced.
Overall the economics alternative program has reduced poverty, increasing household incomes by 50-99%. However this protecting such a large area can be difficult. The vastness of the area means it is majorly understaffed, thus making the control and regulation of illegal activities difficult. Only 100 volunteer guards and 150 employed members of staff are present in the Amana and Mariraua reserves – combined area of 2,490,000 hectares of land. The size of the protected areas and the number of staff available makes it is very difficult to prevent access into the reserves.
In Jau National park, an area of 2,272,000 hectares, there’re only 4 permanent members of staff. Thus fish and turtle poaching remains an unresolved problem. As populations increase around peripheral settlements, more stress is put on it to satisfy the demands of the populations, for example many towns in the heart of the rainforest suffer from intensive poaching of primates and manatees. Overall it may seem that despite efforts, and indeed success, of implementing such conservation schemes, may decrease in effectiveness following growing demand for the Amazons resources from increasing population pressure.
Ecotourism is also a popular way of generating income for the local people as well as promoting conservation. It is a popular method of generating income in developing countries without billion dollar investments. Local people can act as guides or be providers of transport and accommodation – creating a source of income. The environmental low impact theme and conservation awareness can potentially bring in public and private investment. In addition it is a more environmentally friendly form of employment compared to other occupations such as logging and commercial agriculture.
Plus if the country makes the economic transition from a manufacture to service sector economy, the government will have an indirect economic incentive to conserve the environment through promoting ecotourism. Ecotourism has already proved to be an economic, environmental and social success. For example, Costa Rica has been pumping in US$1. 6 million annually since 2000 from ecotourism, resulting in jobs for local people and 25% of its land under government protection. GNP per capita rose from $1500-$2000 between 1978 and 1992.
The village of Tortuguero, Costa Rica, a satellite settlement to the Talamancan national park took a survey which indicated that 88% were highly satisfied with the multiplier effects from ecotourism in the park; such as local employment empowerment and government funding into building eco lodges on old farmland in the village; attracting tourists to spend in their local economy. However, there are cases where ecotourism has not benefitted the local community or the country as a whole.
It is often the case that an ecotourism service is provided by an international agent, whereby revenue is repatriated overseas, away from the local community. Moreover even if the service is provided by host nation companies, the jobs can be seasonal, menial and in most cases, low paid. The influx of wealth and foreign exchange can shift political and economic conditions to make the country or area dependant on tourism as opposed to domestic economic practises. This induces a degree of instability to the industry, making it vulnerable to sudden economic change, such as the global financial crisis in 2008.
This can create a lack of demand and subsequent economic decline in the area and ultimately forcing the local population into occupations that unsustainably exploit natural resources. In conclusion, it is can be said with a degree of confidence that most schemes are beneficial to an extent. Land which is protected, conserved and managed sustainably outweighs the possible environmental damage that can occur due to poor management and lack of funding towards the scheme. Moreover it is the schemes which involve the local community that have the biggest potential to be successful.
Managing the environment whereby its inhabitants are able to reap the full economic benefits of its natural resources allows; growth, development and investment into the local economy – Thus resulting in a self-sustaining operation. However, as world population is not yet set to peak until 2050, the pressure on the environment and demand for resources is only set to increase. It is also worth noting that in the light of possible changes to our global climate system in the coming decades there will be an even greater threat to the Earth’s fragile environments.
With the effects of anthropogenic induced climate change causing more extreme weather, the constant abiotic factors that have shaped our fragile environments across the globe face a deadly, permanent change. If we are to preserve any type of fragile environment at all, it could be argued that a universal effort to reduce our carbon footprint would be the most successful long term scheme to ensure the survival of the Earth’s biodiversity.