The theme for world environment day 2021 is ‘ecosystem restoration’. It can take many forms such as growing trees, greening cities, furnishing gardens, changing diets or cleaning up rivers and coasts. Ecosystem restoration assists the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed and conserving the ecosystems that are still intact. Research clarifies that healthier ecosystems with richer biodiversity emerge better benefits including fertile soils, timber and fish production. All kinds of ecosystems including forests, farmlands, cities, wetlands and oceans can be restored. Restoration happens in many ways such as through actively planting or by removing pressures on nature so that recover on its own.
Forests and trees provide us with clean air and water, capture vast amounts of climate-heating carbon and are home to most of Earth’s biodiversity. They supply food and fodder, fuel and materials, and support the livelihoods of billions of people. Tree planting is a simple and hugely popular restoration activity. We can add trees to a garden, a public space, a farm, across a landscape or even a whole country. Selective planting can revitalize a forest degraded by overharvesting. This low-cost restoration strategy involves creating the conditions for indigenous trees to germinate or re-sprout naturally. Well-resourced projects can secure bigger restoration gains by looking at a whole landscape.
Freshwater ecosystems supply food, water and energy to billions of people, protect us from droughts and floods, and provide unique habitat for many plants and animals, including one-third of all vertebrate species. We have to gather up all the trash and junk dumped or washed up so that people appreciate the landscape and take better care of it. Creating agreed and easy-to-use access points, for instance for animals to drink, boats to land, or people to swim and relax. This will spare fragile vegetation, bird habitat and fish spawning grounds and reduce erosion at the water’s edge. Planting indigenous species to restore rich habitats along the banks of rivers and lakes, create wildlife corridors, and create a buffer zone between the water and sources of pollution, such as nearby industries or farms; remove invasive alien species. Develop fishing and harvesting plans that don’t deplete the water, fish or other resources. Reduce and treat sewage, stop chemical pollutants, industrial waste or other effluent entering the water. Strike agreements or pay incentives to reduce the use of agricultural chemicals on adjacent land. On a landscape scale, seek wide agreement on the declaration of important freshwater ecosystems as protected areas. Remove dams or other infrastructure that are no longer needed and restore natural river flow. And campaign to keep residential development, dredging or mining out of sensitive areas.
Oceans and seas cover more than 70 per cent of the Earth. These ecosystems regulate our climate and generate most of the oxygen we breathe. They underpin key economic sectors, such as tourism and fisheries. And they harbor biodiversity from, whales to plankton, in habitats from sun-lit reefs to polar oceans. We have to mobilize all ages to gather the masses of household waste and abandoned fishing gear that wash up on our beaches and shores. Recycle plastics and other materials to keep them out of landfill. Stop using avoidable and unnecessary plastic products. Watch out for micro beads and micro plastics hidden in products.
The more people take part, the more awareness grows of the need to reduce waste and dispose of it properly. Protecting and restore coastal ecosystems including salt marshes, mangroves, coral reefs, sea-grass meadows and shellfish beds to boost their diversity and the habitats and benefits they provide. All ecosystems are complex, so get expert advice for your location. Bringing together communities, authorities and other stakeholders to agree how to make coastal and ocean development and fishing sustainable, for instance by creating protected areas and deciding who can access which resources. If fishing communities come together and jointly decide on protected areas and fishing zones in their waters, people and nature benefit. Use citizen scientists to monitor the impact of degradation and the benefits of restoration.
Farmlands and grasslands are perhaps our most vital ecosystems. As well as supplying food, fodder, and fibre, arable fields and grazing land host a bewildering variety of organisms from bats and birds to beetles and worms as well as considerable tree cover. Marked by centuries of human effort and ingenuity, these ecosystems are cultural treasures whose protection makes spiritual as well as economic sense. We have to reduce tillage and use natural pest control and organic fertilizer on arable land to build the health of your soil and the yields of your crops while reducing erosion and the need for farm chemicals. Growing more trees and a greater variety of crops and integrate them with livestock keeping to further boost soil health, diversify your income and provide better wildlife habitat. Planting flowers along the borders of farmlands can provide valuable “feeding stations” for bees and other pollinators. In extensive grasslands and savannahs, protect areas along rivers where nutrients are high from being converted to cropland. Without them, less productive areas are harder to use sustainably. Restoring already degraded areas by clearing woody vegetation and re-seeding native grasses. Reintroduce eradicated plants, trees and animals and protect them from predation and hunting until they are established.
As Bangladesh progress towards Vision 2041, we expect that planting trees, pollution control, empowerment of rural women, climate-smart agriculture, eco-friendly projects, natural resources management, people's participation and political will increases biodiversity protection day by day. Context demands a culture and a system of evidence-based decision making for recreating, regenerating, reimaging and restoring ecosystems. Ecosystems including water, forest, land, oceans and wetlands where conservation practices, knowledge and policies interact with each other as well as making each other stronger are essential.
Shishir Reza is an Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association.