By Savanna Henderson, Humanitas Global
In the conclusion of this two-part blog I will examine examples of responses to development and biodiversity conservation.
Current environmental trends showcase the need for immediate action to reverse degradation and damage while simultaneously identifying development solutions that protect the environment. While there is a universal need for sustainable responses to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is no silver bullet solution. Though environmental conservation and sustainability should be inherent in every response to the SDGs, solutions to poverty in a biodiversity hotspot require a much different response than solutions to poverty in an urban environment. Sustainable development requires solutions tailored to local development needs, environment, threats, and existing policies, guidelines, and laws. Below are examples of environmental conservation efforts that complement sustainable development.
Wildlife corridors are one solution to the impacts of development and urbanization on habitat fragmentation. Basically, a wildlife corridor provides a path of native vegetation between two or more habitats to allow for wildlife to safely travel between the habitats. This is important for migratory animal species, colonization, genetic diversity conservation, and the functioning of ecosystem services. Wildlife corridors can vary in size as seen in the following examples.
Homeowners 75 miles from London have created something of a mini corridor for hedgehogs by cutting holes in the base of their yard fences. Urban and suburban development has forced hedgehogs into human territory where fences prevent travel for food, mating and survival. Holes in the fences allow hedgehogs to carry on with their behaviors with as little disruption as possible.
Expansion of the two-lane Trans-Canada Highway running through the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada prompted implementation of corridors and safety mechanisms to protect humans, wildlife, and the Park ecosystem. Today, there are six overpasses, 38 underpasses and fencing along the highway that allows grizzly and black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougar, moose, elk, deer, and wolverine to cross safely. A study of bears using the corridor has revealed that they are utilizing the corridor which may restore the previously isolated gene flow between bear populations.
Flyways are pathways used by migratory birds and insects. Development can destroy nesting grounds, stopover sites for food and rest, and wintering grounds used by bird populations. Protecting and creating habitat along known flyways is crucial to protecting migratory bird species. In Oslo, construction of a ‘bee highway’ aims to give insects, specifically endangered pollinators, food and shelter throughout the city.
As the name indicates, protected areas safeguard habitats and ecosystems from degradation and fragmentation. As defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), these areas are dedicated to the preservation of biological diversity, and natural and cultural resources. They are managed by legal or similarly effective means to ensure conservation. Protected areas are categorized into six types including:
- Nature reserves or wilderness areas;
- National parks;
- Natural monuments;
- Habitat/species management areas;
- Protected landscape/seascapes and
- Managed resource protected areas
Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are protected areas of habitat set aside for conservation. Often, they are utilized for tourism activities (hunting, photograph, camping, etc.,) to benefit the local community or continued preservation of the park. In Papua New Guinea, WMAs are protected areas of land and water under the Fauna Protection and Control Act. Customary landowners own and manage the land to protect wildlife and its habitat, which can provide a form of income, and support culturally significant and traditional forms of natural resource use.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) focus on oceans and can be practiced in numerous ways. MPAs may be developed and operated by the private sector or a local community, collaborative management systems, government agencies or have international designations. The Quirimbas National Park in Mozambique includes woodlands, coastal forests, granite inselbergs, mangrove forests, coral reefs and sand flats. Six fish sanctuaries (no-take areas) in the park prohibit all types of fishing, with the protected area growing in size annually. As the fish are protected, the stocks are rehabilitated and eventually spread to unprotected areas, benefitting resident fisherman.
The Way Forward
The examples above are just a few of the many solutions to protecting land and marine habitats and resources with the well-being of society in mind. Of course, there are limitations to the success of these examples. While wildlife corridors show promise in providing safe passage between fragmented habitats, continued habitat loss will make corridors inconsequential. Animals like the North American pronghorn that travel 150 miles each way during migration, make corridors an unviable solution. Then there are animals such as the endangered Asian elephant (a keystone species). Habitat fragmentation has eliminated or forced traditional migration routes into human-occupied areas leading to conflict and death to both humans and elephants. Providing a corridor to accommodate the size and numbers of elephants using traditional migration routes would require conversion of human habitat and resettlement of often already impoverished people.
Protected areas, once identified and implemented, provide a safe haven for biodiversity. Unfortunately, animals don’t recognize the commonly invisible barriers of a protected area, and may travel outside the boundaries. Two preserves in India provide protected habitat for roughly 6,300 elephants. But the 2,200 acres connecting the preserves, frequented by the elephants, are not protected. Several villages in this area agreed to resettle elsewhere, but continued population growth threatens to overtake such vulnerable habitat. In Tanzania, the African Wildlife Foundation resolved such a case by establishing a WMA in an area utilized by wildlife between two national parks
It will take efforts like those noted above, and much more, to achieve the Global Goals and create an enabling and productive environment for future populations. More research and related endeavors are critical to understanding the trade-offs between development and preservation of biodiversity and to identify steps to ensure that development and biodiversity conservation become convergent goals.