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Peace may post threat to conservation efforts

March 10, 2010

I was flipping through an issue of The Economist today and came across a really interesting article that basically challenged us to consider the effect the human population has on flora and fauna. So I thought I’d share the idea of the article and give you some food for thought.

Most places in the world that sustain a large population of humans have faced huge environmental consequences. Consider some of our megacities: Shanghai, Mumbai, Mexico City, Tokyo, New York City, Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro . . . most of the wildlife and plant life that once thrived in those areas has vanished.

The article pointed out that in places of human conflict, however, nature is starting to thrive. Some of the examples included: the Foja Mountains in western New Guinea, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean and the sea off Kenya’s northern coast.

Off of Kenya’s coast, Somali pirates scare off a large number of fishing vessels and the fish population seems to be flourishing. The Chagos Islands are a military zone and have some of the world’s healthiest coral reefs. The DMZ is only 155 miles across the Korean peninsula, but is home to two endangered birds, black bears, egrets and potentially a subspecies of the Siberian tiger (according to some). The Foja mountains are too steep for traditional logging so the rainforest has thrived, providing home to an incredible diversity of life.

the smoky honeyeater, the first new bird species discovered in New Guinea since 1939 (found in Foja mountains) photo by Bruce Beehler via national geographic

The critically endangered Amur Leopard, which may be surviving among landmines in the Korean DMZ; photo by Colin Hines via wikimedia

These places, mostly considered too dangerous for humans to live or industralize, have become “involuntary parks“, a phrase coined by Bruce Sterling to describe their return to an overgrown, wild state.

Another interesting example is the area around the Chernobyl disaster. Boars, wolves and bears have all returned to the area and a subspecies of the wild horse whose population was decimated to the point of near extinction was recently re-introduced with success.

So the major threat to these areas, sadly, is a resolution of peace or an absence of military. The threat is human interference.

I think these examples are so interesting because it just proves how diverse and resilient the natural world is without population growth overpowering it. This article resonated with me because I was reminded how crucial it is that we live WITH the world around us, not against it. It shouldn’t be that human conflict is the only way we can protect our wildlife and biodiversity. We can devise systems to live more sustainably so that it’s not a choice between the environment or us.

It is also of utmost importance that we designate areas like these as parks or refuges where we can nourish conservation efforts rather than over-run them.

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