“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson
The human impact on the natural world, and; consequently, the ecological balance has reached unparalleled levels. Humankind is present on all seven continents, including Antarctica. And, according to Klaus Rodhe, the editor of the book, “The Balance of Nature and Human Impact“, “almost all ecosystems have been modified by human activities through habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation, pollution, and invasive species.”
Additionally, 2013 statistics show that more than 35% of the world’s surface area, excluding the seas, was used for urban settlements and agriculture, humans utilised over 50% of the available freshwater, 70% of marine fish have already been overexploited, and 50% of the worlds coral reefs have been destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed.
Finally, the impact of greenhouse gas emissions had already been associated with climate change associated with global warming in 2013. Unfortunately, 2019 statistics show “global carbon emissions… [were] …expected to hit an all-time high.“
Additionally, scientists predicted that by the end of 2019, industrial emissions from the “burning of fossil fuels… [would] …pump an estimated 36.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” And the cumulative carbon emissions from all human enterprises, including agriculture and land use, will likely top out at circa 43.1 billion tons.
Clearly, something needs to be done to prevent the total destruction of the earth by human activities. Not only is the radical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions more of a priority than ever before, but humankind must make an effort to reduce its carbon footprint as a matter of urgency.
Reducing humankind’s negative impact on the natural order or environment
As highlighted above, it is fundamentally vital to reduce the human impact of the environment. And this can be achieved by considering the concept of ecological balance, as well as ways of restoring the ecosystem’s natural order, balance, and stability.
Before we look at ways to restore the environment’s natural order, let’s look at a succinct definition of the phrase “ecological balance.”
According to scvswap, the term “ecological balance” is described as the “equilibrium between living organisms such as human being, plants, and animals as well as their environment.“
A reasonable question to ask is: “Why is maintaining the global ecosystem’s natural order so important?”
By way of answering this question, it is essential to note that the survival of all of the world’s species is dependent on the ecological balance.
There are many different ecosystems or types of ecosystems in the world. Each ecosystem is typically created as a pyramid structure. And all of the individual levels are needed to balance the ecosystem or keep the environment’s natural order.
Otherwise, if this balance is thrown out of kilter because of the destruction of one of the elements of the ecosystem, the pyramid-structure will collapse. And all of the other levels on top of the missing level run the risk of dying out. Additionally, the animals like rodents in the level below could spiral out of control and become pests because their predators have died out.
The well-balanced ecosystem: A case study
An example of a well-balanced ecological pyramid is found on the Great Plains of Eastern Africa. The annual Wildebeest migration between the Mara Plains and Serengeti is seasonal.
According to Siyabona, circa two million animals migrate across the plains in search of food and water.
If the land that the animals migrate across is closed off due to agricultural activities, then they wouldn’t be able to find food so would die off. Also, drought conditions caused by global warming would reduce their numbers substantially.
Both of these scenarios would not only reduce the numbers of wildebeest, but it would impact predators like crocodiles, lions, hyenas, and jackals negatively. Even the birds that eat carrion would be adversely affected as there will be no food for them.
While this sounds like a random event that occurs twice a year, it’s a vital part of a delicate ecological balance. And, this ecological pyramid found in the Great Plains of East Africa can be explained as follows.
Succinctly stated, it consists of grass, trees, and plants at the bottom, insects like dung beetles higher up, and then second from the top are the herbivores like the Wildebeest, Zebra, and Gazelle. Finally, the predators like the lion are at the pinnacle of this ecological pyramid.
Ecological Disharmony And Its Biggest Consequences
Ecology is basically the study of relations of various organisms inhabiting an ecosystem with each other as well as with the surrounding environment. Ecological balance is nothing but maintaining a state of equilibrium between all living components of a particular ecosystem so that all can co-exist together. So, balance in the ecosystem is of supreme importance for the survival, stability, and existence of the environment. On the other hand, ecological disharmony is when a human-caused or natural disturbance ends up disrupting the ecosystem’s natural balance.
Devastating consequences of ecological imbalance
Acid rain, deforestation, greenhouse effect, radioactive fallout, urbanization, industrialization, marine, and air pollution, changing hydrology, animal and plant breeding, usage of pesticides, overgrazing, mining activities, and forest fires are the main causes of disharmony in the ecosystem. Because of such unevenness living organisms and the environment are bound to face disastrous consequences.
Health problems in human beings
Polluted water, land, and air generate multiple harmful biological and chemical agents that impact human health in negative ways. The plagues that killed thousands in the Middle Ages resulted from contaminated human waste spread by rats. No country can claim to be complete immunity against outbreaks of diseases that are transmitted environmentally. The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in several countries in 2003 validates this statement.
Depletion of genetic resources
The genetic material present in the domesticated plants, livestock, trees, microorganisms and aquatic animals is important for the breeding programmes which achieve continued improvements in flavor, yield, durability, nutritional quality, disease and pest resistance and several other qualities. Due to intensive selection for uniformity and high performance, the genetic base of food product at present times has grown depressingly low.
If we want the soil of particular area to remain fertile, we have to protect it from degradation. Soil degradation occurs due to acidification, water-logging, improper use of land, salinisation, chemical degradation, and soil erosion. Erosion takes place both because of human activities and natural conditions.
The word ‘desert’ is an umbrella term encompassing four types of environmental complexes:
- Rainless deserts (places with almost no rainfall)
- Rainfall deserts (places that receive rainfall, but not sufficient for production of crops)
- Run-off deserts (regions where the yearly rainfall is variable and low)
- Man-made deserts (semi-arid regions that have turned into deserts because of man’s negligence and exploitation)
The two main causes of desertification are over-exploitation by humans of drylands and recurrent droughts.
Depletion of the Ozone Layer
The ozone layer is the protective layer of the earth that protects the earth from dangerous UV radiation. The depletion of the ozone layer is one of the severe consequences of ecological disharmony. It has direct impacts on human health and the environment.
Chemical contaminants often reach livestock and food from various sources. When we use pesticides to protect agricultural crops from pests, they contaminate the crops. Growth boosters given to animals and veterinary drugs contain chemicals that pass into dairy products and meat. Packaged food should be avoided as they contain food preservatives such as sodium nitrate and other chemicals. Even industrial effluents and industrial chemicals contaminate plants
Carbon dioxide is responsible for warming the air in the atmosphere’s lower levels, a phenomenon called the “greenhouse effect”. The ozone layer and water vapor present in the air also help to keep the earth warm by absorbing the infrared radiation. This is the reason why the temperature of the world has been increasing gradually, resulting in a reduction of glaciers. Global warming is also responsible for changes in climate and if not stop will melt polar ice caps, submerging the low lying coastal cities underwater.
We may conclude by saying that man plays a dominating role in maintaining ecological balance and creating ecological disharmony because of his thinking capacity as opposed to other living things inhabiting the planet. Therefore, we humans need to contribute positively to the maintenance of ecological balance. It is our responsibility to make sure that all living things live in harmony with each other for the sake of ecological stability. We can do this by planting more trees, conserving the natural habitat of wild animals, reducing the emission of harmful gases and checking air, water, and land pollution.
Ecological Imbalance: Major Causes Behind It
The stability of the earth’s ecosystem depends on the balance between the consumption and production of every single element in the ecosystem. Ecological imbalance or instability is a state in which an ecosystem fails to adjust to the changes in the environment. This type of situation arises when the changes are enormous and they exceed the capacity or resilience of the ecosystem.
Causative agents for ecological imbalance:
The major factor responsible for an imbalance in the existing ecosystem of the earth is the dominance of human beings in the global ecosystem. Man’s selfish and thoughtless ways to exploit the resources of the planet for satisfying his greed is the root cause of this diversion. Here are the main causes of imbalance in the ecosystem:
When rainwater is utilized for irrigation, water flows as a slow pace in the river and water quality downstream also declines. Construction of large reservoirs for power generation and irrigation also alter the ecosystem of the place. Irrigation also increases the contents of water vapor in the locality.
Use of Pesticides
When we apply pesticides on plants to protect them from plants, pesticides do not just contaminate the plant but also pollute surface and ground waters. So, the use of pesticides has adverse effects on the environment, creating ecological imbalance.
Green House Effect
Increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is a big concern for environmentalists. The direct negative effect of this is the increased temperature of the earth’s surface, commonly known as ‘global warming’. If we do not take stern measures to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide, the consequences will be disastrous. There will be a drastic change in the climate in several places resulting in the melting of polar ice caps and submerging low-lying coastal cities (such as Chennai, London, and New York) under the oceans.
Acid rain, that is rainwater laden with acids, is the main reason behind air pollution. When we burn fossil fuels, large amounts of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide are released into the air. These oxides, after coming in contact with water vapor, produce nitric acid and sulphuric acid which come back to the surface of the earth when it rains. Acid rain is a great threat to the world’s ecological balance, harming plants and animals.
Ecosystem instability and environmental degradation that arise from overgrazing are mostly seen in semi-arid and arid regions of Central Asia, the Mediterranean basin and near-Eastern countries. The aftermath of this is desertification.
The clearance of forest cover is again a primary contributory factor in the disturbance of the ecology of our planet. Man has cut down forests to establish croplands, residential areas, and grasslands. In addition to this, forests are also targeted for fuel-wood and timber.
Repeated, natural forest fires that burn thousands of trees overnight cause severe harm to the ecosystem and are responsible for the degradation of the environment.
Industrialization is important to cater to the basic comforts and necessities of life for our increasing population. But, improperly planned and executed industrialization has resulted in acute ecological imbalance and environmental pollution worldwide.
The process of extracting minerals and processing them has a long-lasting ecological impact on the atmosphere, land, water and also the socio-economic environment of the people living there. One direct outcome of mining on the topography is surface disturbances. Reclamation of uneven, disturbed land due to mining wastes can rectify the environmental damage to a certain extent. Excessive surface mining has resulted in fragile ecosystems in several places.
Rapid urbanization gives birth to several environmental, health, and socio-economic problems. For instance, a slum settlement in towns and cities is clearly an outcome of unplanned urbanization that fails to provide housing facilities to all citizens. People, when unable to find a proper dwelling place, end up occupying any vacant land in the outskirts of a city and start living in a haphazard manner without civic facilities such as drainage, roads, water supply, electricity, and transport. Slum expansion destroys the natural ecosystems that surround the cities.
So, the basic causes of disharmony in the ecosystem and environmental pollution are urbanization, motorization, and industrialization. Human beings are accountable for the degradation of the quality of the environment and we require steady measures to bring back harmony into the ecosystem.
Coral Reefs: Value of Corals
Coral Reefs, known as the “rainforests of the sea”, are among the most productive and biodiverse ecosystems on our planet. They do not occupy more than one percent of the floor of the ocean, and yet are home to at least a quarter of the entire marine population, including various species of reptiles, bacteria, fungi, crustaceans, and 4000 or more varieties of fish.
Three basic types of coral reefs:
- Fringing Reef
- Barrier Reef
- Atoll Reef
Where can we find coral reefs?
Coral reefs are situated in tropical oceans of the earth that are near the equator. The Great Barrier Reef, located in Australia, is the world’s largest coral reef. The second biggest coral reef is in Central America’s Belize. Reefs are also present in the Red Sea, Hawaii, and other regions in tropical oceans.
How valuable are corals?
Healthy corals are not just biologically diverse but also economically valuable resources of the earth. Coral ecosystems provide food to millions of organisms (including humans), offer spawning grounds and habitat to fish species, protect coastlines from erosion and storms, and also provide a livelihood to locals from recreation, tourism, and fishing.
Gifts of coral reefs to mankind:
Biodiversity- Coral reefs are important nursery, spawning, feeding and breeding grounds for multiple organisms. Speaking of biodiversity, the rich variety of living organisms residing on a coral reef is actually greater than the diversity of species inhabiting shallow-water ecosystems. Yet corals do not occupy even one percent of the planet’s ocean floor. They support at least 800 coral species and 4000 exotic species of fish.
Fisheries- More than one billion people from all over the world consume fish that live and grow on coral reefs. There are also many species of fish that reside far away from corals but derive food from them. Fifty percent of America’s federally handled fisheries rely on coral reefs and its related habitats to a great extent. The yearly commercial value of fisheries in US that come from coral reefs reaches up to $100 million. Coral reefs fisheries situated in South East Asia also generate $2.4 billion every year.
Coastal protection- Coral reefs that are healthy have complex structures and rough surfaces that dissipate the force of waves. This gives protection to the shorelines from waves, storms, and ocean currents, preventing loss of life, erosion and major damages to property. So, coastlines that receive protection from reefs are stable and they are also a source of rich sand in the beaches.
Medicine- Many species that inhabit coral reefs produce specific chemical compounds necessary for attack or defense, particularly the stationary or slow-moving species such as sponges and nudibranchs. So, creatures that are found in the coral ecosystems are valuable sources of novel medicines being discovered to ease and induce labor, treat arthritis, cancer, ulcers, heart diseases, asthma, bacterial infections, viruses, and several other ailments. Corals are also a source of cosmetics, enzymes and nutritional supplements. In the years to come, more medicines will be developed from coral reefs if we can succeed in protecting and preserving them.
Recreation and tourism- Millions of snorkelers and scuba divers visit the coral reefs every year to enjoy rich sea life. Beaches that are protected by coral reefs are more crowded than the ones that are not. So, local economies earn billions of dollars from these visitors who participate in fishing trips and diving tours as well as facilitate the businesses, restaurants, and hotels located nearby.
Losing Coral Reefs: A Potential Threat
According to a report published by the World Resource Institute, named ‘Reefs at Risk Revisited, 75 percent of the coral reefs of the world are at great risks from global and local stresses. About a quarter of these valuable reefs has been ruined beyond repair. Overfishing along with harmful fishing techniques like usage of cyanide and explosives and deep water trawling are among the most destructive threats to the coral reefs.
Pollution from the land, such as releases from several power plants, trash, oil spills, and pathogens also endanger the existence of corals. Even plastic pollution is responsible for killing corals. If humans do not take major steps to protect the coral reefs, 90 percent of them will be damaged in the next ten years.
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