Rainforests: The ‘lungs’ of the Earth could soon dry out, unless we act now
The future of tourism is heavily reliant on nature – from the reported 21.9 million jobs involved in Wildlife Tourism (WTTC, 2019), to the sector’s dependence on ecosystems services, to what nature uniquely brings to destinations across the world.
Nature is integral to our prosperity and wellbeing, it supports human development and equality, our resilience to viral pandemics and climate change, as well as its support of millions of other species. The World Economic Forum estimates Nature’s economic value generation at US$44 trillion – half of the world’s total GDP.
It is somewhat ironic then, that little has been done to curb humanity’s unsustainable consumption of the natural world. Our collective ecological footprint now far exceeds Earth’s rate of regeneration (Nature, 2021). Human activity has already altered over 70% of Earth’s land surface (IPBES, 2019) and more than two-thirds of the oceans (Halpern et al., 2015), with our indirect impact damaging much of what remains. This cumulative activity has resulted in the loss of natural habitat and biodiversity, with an on average, 68% decline in the abundance of monitored mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish (WWF Living Planet Report, 2020), and 1 in 5 recorded animals and plants – c. 37,000 species – now facing extinction (IUCN, 2021).
Let’s put this in context, we are slowly destroying the fabric of life that we all rely on for survival.
Consider rainforests for example, these are the oldest ecosystems on Earth, with some surviving in their present form for over 70 million years. The most famous rainforests are found around the Equator, like the Amazon, but there are also cooler, temperate rainforests, largely found in Northern America and Europe. Rainforests only cover 6% of Earth’s land area but are known to support over 50% of the planet’s biodiversity – one of the most biologically important natural habitats on Earth.
In addition to the astonishing natural heritage, rainforests are considered the ‘lungs of the world’, producing about 20% of our oxygen and act as a store of approximately 50% of all the carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) produced by humans. They absorb solar radiation, limit the Earth’s reflectivity, maintain the Earth’s fresh water supply, and stabilise climatic conditions. Vital allies in our struggle to combat climate change.
Rainforests are biodiverse and vital to planetary health, but also essential for combating climate change.
The problem is that world’s rainforests are disappearing. Reportedly 100 acres (40 hectares) of rainforest is cleared every minute for agricultural and industrial development. In the Pacific Northwest of America, logging companies cut down trees for timber and paper, in the Amazon, wildfires, believed to be lit by farmers and cattle ranchers, ravaged 2.24 million acres of forest in 2019, whilst in the Congo, roads sliced up the forests, destabilising the ecosystem. The latest research indicates that due to the deforestation, wildfires, and rises in climatic temperature, large expanses of rainforest could become arid savannahs – losing all those healthy benefits.
I was lucky enough to have lived in the subtropical Peruvian Amazon some 22 years ago. I lived and worked at Explorer’s Inn, a tourist lodge, once a renowned tropical ecology field station. Where I predominantly worked as a tour guide, but also helped document the abundance of species. This area has amazing biological diversity, with more than 1,200 recorded species of butterflies, 632 listed bird species, 103 amphibian species, 180 species of fish, 169 species of mammals and 103 reptile species – an astonishing roll call. Imagine how devastated I was when I returned 20 years later to find a lot of the forest gone, and converted for farming. Of course, I would always support the need for people to earn a living and support their families, but at the cost of a habitat that is so vitally important to the planet and the survival humanity? There must be another option.
At ANIMONDIAL, the specialist animal tourism consultancy, we have a firm belief that tourism holds the solution to many of these problems. Managed well, tourism can be a force for good – bringing much needed revenue and investment to natural habitats in such destinations. Influencing and encouraging national governments, businesses, and local communities to place greater value on safeguarding their natural heritage than converting natural environments into agricultural or industrial use. A strategy that is likely to supporting many more local livelihoods, whilst also protecting such vital habitats from harm.
To help guide and advise travel and tourism businesses to minimise their negative impact on animals and nature, and help them optimise biodiversity protection, ANIMONDIAL has developed a series of new consultancy services packages. These can be customised to any need, type or size of travel business, and can catering for those businesses that have yet to include any animal protection safeguards into their operations, as well as those that have started the journey.
Managed well, minimising negative impact wherever possible, tourism can be the force for good – protecting and regenerating Earth’s natural habitats and ecosystems.
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