To create global awareness about the importance of a healthy environment, world environment day is celebrated every year on June 5. Also known as, Eco day or simply Environment day, world environment day was established by UN General Assembly in 1972. Its celebrations are theme-based and each year a particular theme is declared by United Nations. The theme of first-world environment day held in 1974 was ‘only one earth’ and this year it is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’.
What is an Ecosystem?
The term Ecosystem was introduced by A.G Tansley in 1935. He defined it as; the system resulting from the interaction of all living and non-living factors of the environment. In fact, in nature, the living organisms and their non-living environment interact with each other and they are so much inseparably interlinked that there is a frequent exchange of material and energy leading to a tropic structure, biotic diversity, and material cycle (i.e exchange of materials). The entire structure is named an ecological system or ecosystem. In Ecosystem, biotic components (plants, animals, and other organisms) and non-biotic components of the biosphere (like weather and landscape) function in tandem to form a bubble of life. Ecosystem depends upon solar energy. Plants (producers) utilize solar energy for the synthesis of food through photosynthesis. The energy produced is incorporated into plant tissues. This energy passes on to plant-dependent animals (consumers) and then to other microorganisms (decomposers) which act upon dead decayed plants and animals to release carbon into the atmosphere. The carbon so formed is reused in the process of photosynthesis. In this way, there is the passage of much-required nutrients through this biotic-abiotic interaction thereby forming a life-sustaining environmental system. It is significant that ecosystems can be of different sizes and are broadly categorized into two types viz; Terrestrial, Aquatic ecosystems, which have different subcategories.
Significance of Ecosystem
An Ecosystem is a basic unit of the biosphere (the zone of earth where life exists). It has an important role in nutrient recycling between biotic and abiotic components and in maintaining a consistent flow of energy. Regulation of energy flow makes the balance between all these creatures, which is seminal to the existence of life systems. Precisely, an ecosystem is, therefore, a life-supporting system.
Threats to Ecosystem
The ecosystem is under constant threat. Biodiversity loss is one of the main causes of ecosystem degradation. The unstoppable pollution of air, water, and soil has adversely influenced the overall health of an ecosystem. Pollution of air is a potential threat to living organisms and non-living things equally. Noxious substances released into the atmosphere are not only detrimental to biotic life but also are inimical to abiotic components. Soil pollution and water pollution can disturb the ecological balance in the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems respectively. Over-exploitation of natural resources is also destructive to the ecosystem. Reduction in community structures, population distributions, and species breeding that are signs of ecosystem problems are fallouts of over-fishing, over-hunting, and over-mining. Eutrophication, the excessive nutrient concentration in water bodies is perilous to aquatic life. It degrades the quality of water. Hence is responsible for the destruction of an aquatic ecosystem.
Climate Change and Global warming directly affect the abiotic factors that are essential for the sustenance of biotic elements. Different living organisms require specific abiotic factors to thrive but global warming and climate change have resulted in harmful changes.
Invasive species are also deleterious to a particular ecosystem. Invasive species are non-native species that find their way to an ecosystem that is possible either through natural process or by human introduction. These foreign species may have an ability to prey on vulnerable native members of the ecosystem resulting in their loss thus leaving the ecosystem altered. Also, these species generally possess a tendency of reproducing rapidly and spread aggressively. And triggers loss of vegetation, affects soil and land badly, which brings about unfavorable changes in an ecosystem.
We have forgotten the fact that Ecosystems support all life on Earth and healthier ecosystems mean a healthier planet and its people. In pursuits of development, humans have spoiled the ecosystem. Without rethinking, we indulge in damaging the ecosystem directly or indirectly. Damage has been done. However, there is still an option to restore it. For renewing the damaged ecosystem, to prevent, stop, and reverse its degradation worldwide, UN General Assembly not only set ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ as theme of eco day 2021 but also proclaimed 2021-2030 as the decade on Ecosystem restoration. It presses for scaling up of restoration efforts. It seeks to repair some of the damage done to the ecosystem. It aims at assisting the recovery of degraded, damaged, and destroyed ecosystems so that it regains ecological functionality and provides goods and services of value to humans. Ecosystem restoration is advantageous for increased food and water security. Experts are of opinion that by restoration of 350 million hectares of the degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem by 2030, a tidy sum of US $ 9 trillion could be generated in ecosystem services and about 13-26 gigatons of greenhouse gases could be removed from the atmosphere.
Ecosystem Restoration and our responsibilities
To repair and restore the ecosystem we need to look into the causes of damage. The threats ecosystem is facing must be eliminated. Pollution needs to be checked. Overexploitation has to be stopped. We need to understand the factors that promote Eutrophication and bring about climate change and global warming and to take sustainable measures to put a stop to these problems. In addition to that, we can contribute to repairing an ecosystem by projects like; repairing and replanting wetlands, forestland, and other habitats. Restoration is attainable by replacing a degraded ecosystem with another using simple species assemblage. Eradicating invasive species and replacing grass grown for lawns with native species can help in achieving the goal. Monitoring pond and lake habitats and keep government authorities updated on their condition would help in their protection. The efforts for restoration may also be conducted on small scale as well that includes activities like afforestation and avoiding deforestation. So, let us take the advantage of this occasion of world environment day to educate the masses about this issue and vow to make concerted efforts to heal our planet, which is important for all of us to survive.
ZEESHAN RASOOL KHAN, writes on different issues. He tweets @zeeshan_rk and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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