Forests, nature’s green factories

21 March has been proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as International Day of Forests. On this day, attention falls on the importance of forests of various types, and in various locations around the world. Countries are encouraged to engage in local, national and international efforts to organise activities promoting forests and drawing attention to the role forests play in the environment.

Forests - ensuring a healthy environment for all.(© All Rights Reserved)
Forests – ensuring a healthy environment for all.
(© All Rights Reserved)

As explained on the International Day of Forests website, the importance of forests can hardly be overstated:

  • Rain forests are the world’s biggest producer of oxygen, generating more than 40% of all the oxygen in the world.
  • Beyond oxygen production, forests also regulate the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air.
  • A tree releases almost 10 times more moisture into the atmosphere than the equivalent area of ocean.
  • Forests protect and direct fresh water supply to rivers.
  • Forests house more than 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity.
  • Thousands of forest plant species are used for medicinal and cultural purposes.
  • Forests provide resilience to natural disasters, helping with soil and water conservation, avalanche control, desertification control and coastal protection.
  • Mangrove forests provide a barrier against tsunamis, cyclones and hurricanes.

The loss of forests through deforestation can have a massive ecological impact:

  • Deforestation tends to result in soil erosion, which in turn leads to rivers becoming silted, reducing the availability of clean water.
  • It is estimated that deforestation could account for the loss of as many as 100 species of fauna and flora a day.

Perhaps most importantly, forests represent a critical component in addressing global climate change. Currently, the world’s forests are estimated to store almost 300 gigatonnes of carbon in their biomass. Deforestation and forest degradation not only erodes the carbon stores, but has already resulted in more than 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If deforestation can be halted, it can have a huge impact, not only ecological but also financial. According to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006), halving greenhouse gas emissions can save the world more than $3.5 trillion between 2010 and 2050.

While deforestation feels like one of those ‘big issues’ that are almost too big to do something about as an individual, this needn’t be the case. We can all do our bit, even if it’s something as small as talking about the issue, planting a tree, or joining/supporting a local forest rejuvenation group or initiative. Just as a massive forest grows from tiny, individual trees, huge impacts can flow from humble, individual actions.

World Oceans Day

It’s World Oceans Day, our annual opportunity to honor the great oceans linking us all, to celebrate what the ocean provides humanity, and also to appreciate its intrinsic value.

World Ocean Day is a day for celebration, but also a day to start spreading the word on the importance of protecting the ocean for future generations
(© All Rights Reserved)

The theme for World Oceans Day 2012 is Youth: the Next Wave for Change, which firstly acknowledges the role the youth plays in the future of the ocean, and secondly reiterates the importance of everyone playing their part in securing the future of the world’s oceans for our youth.

One of the initiatives undertaken as part of this day is “Wear Blue, Tell Two“, an information sharing initiative where everyone is urged to dress in blue and to share with those around us two facts about the protection of the world’s oceans.

So, to do my bit (yes, I’m wearing blue jeans and a blue sweater, I promise!) herewith my two messages about our oceans:

1) The havoc caused by climate change
The ocean absorbs the majority of the heat added to the earth through climate change, resulting in a warmer ocean, which negatively impacts on the coral ecosystem and affects the life cycles of many fish species. This warmer water also decreases upwelling, which means that less nutrients reach the surface water, harming many marine ecosystems. Furthermore, the Poles are melting at an alarming rate, affecting polar marine environments and causing the ocean levels to rise, resulting in the loss of critical coastal habitats. It is also estimated that 10% of the global human population lives below 10m above sea level, which means about 700 million people are directly threatened by a significantly rising sea level. Not a pretty picture… And we haven’t even touched on the impact of the chemical changes in the oceans as a result of increased atmospheric greenhouse gases, or the changes in the ocean currents and the effects this is having on the earth’s climate.
(Source: Five Effects of Climate Change on the Ocean, http://www.conservation.org)

2) What we can do to help
Despite the doom and gloom of my first message, all is not irretrievably lost. Each of us can contribute our little bit to help the environment. By merely living more socially responsibly (recycling, reusing, limiting our carbon footprint) we can help slow global warming, which directly impacts on the wellbeing of our oceans. And there are numerous local and international initiatives we can get involved in. For example:

  • Conservation International runs an initiative called “Save a Mile” where you can make a donation to support initiatives focused on ocean conservation
  • The World Oceans Day website hosts the “Blue Planeteer” awareness drive, where you can volunteer to perform simple online tasks, such as tweeting about World Oceans Day or emailing a blog.

These are just two small online examples – if you live near the sea your local aquarium or nature centre may well have their own initiatives going, so ask around and get involved.

So spread the word on World Ocean Day – wear blue and tell two!