Life is fantastic, expressed in million of different species of all kinds of shapes, colors and life forms, from the myriad of virus and bacteria, which actually forms a large part of all the living material, to huge whales or elephants. Scientists have just discovered corals that are estimated to be over 5000 years old. As life is found in the most unlikely places – under kilometers of ice, deep inside the crust of the Earth, at the bottom of the oceans, where super-hot water emerges from volcanic cents, and of course, in all the more normal places.
That living organisms have evolved to adapt to such different living conditions show the enormous possibilities life has. When a new island emerges from volcanic activities, birds, floating and wind-borne seeds, insects and algae rapidly colonize it. In the matter of decades the island has changed, and it will continue to be changed as it is influenced by the life on it, which again creates opportunities for new life forms to settle or adapt to the changed environment.
The complex processes within and around all living organisms require cooperation between many organisms - also of different species (apart from a single bacteria that has been fund deep inside South African rocks – and apparently does not need anyone else!). Humans could for example not survive for long without the billions of microorganism in our guts. The better we take care of them by eating wisely, the longer we can expect to live.
We are also totally dependent on other organisms at a less close range. The number of bees is falling dramatically in North America, with serious consequences for fruit production and other farming that requires pollination of flowers. The reduction in the number of been is due to some disease, but why the bees suddenly get this disease has not been solved but with thousands of new chemicals being releases in to the environment every year, without any serious testing things like this are bound to happen.
Commercial scale farms in Bolivia are finding out that it pays to leave strips of natural vegetation between their fields, because the natural enemies keep down crop pests. This reduces costs of spraying and reduces loss of harvest.
The same has been round in seas and lakes: it pays to establish no-fishing zones, where the living organisms can get a chance to multiply, without being overfished whether by highly efficient super trawlers or fishermen with mosquito nets.
There are many examples all over the world of the huge value of sound natural systems. Vegetation on hillsides in the Dominican Republic and Cuba prevents erosion and dangerous mudslides and instead stores rainwater, so that it can be released gradually in small streams in the dry season. Indigenous trees cover most of the fields in Niger and have resulted in increased water tables, less damages from locusts and less erosion than in open areas.
The following describes in more detail the benefits of maintaining and restoring protective mangrove forest.
The following shows the economic advantage of preventing disaster, compared to using billions of dollars after disasters. The World Bank estimates that every dollar invested in measures that effectively reduce the damages from disasters are seven dollars in terms of reduced losses.
Cyclone Nargis killed about 130.000 people in Myanmar (Burma) in 2008 and devastated much of the rice-production Irrawaddy Delta. The mangrove area in the delta had been reduced to half the size it was in 1975.
Mangroves are well knows for the their ability to protect coastal areas and dikes against cyclones and even tsunamis, as it was seen in the Asian countries hit by the 2004 Asian tsunami. They could also have saved many lives in Myanmar.
Vietnam is one of the countries that is most vulnerable to natural disaster, and is ranked among the five countries that will be hardest hit by climate change. Most of its population and agricultural production are located in coastal areas, that are only a few feet above sea level. A five meter increase in sea level, which could happen by 2100, will force one third of the its population to move.
In 1994, the Vietnamese Read Cross started a program of planting mangrove trees.
During the Vietnamese War; US troops had dumped 20 million gallons of a chemical that kills plants by making them shed their leaves.
This made it easier for us troops to spot Vietnamese liberation fighters from the airplanes and to protect against ambushes. This so-called Agent Orange also contains poisonous dioxins, which continue to kill and cause birth defects among thousands of Vietnamese every year. (The Vietnamese people has never received any compensation, nor has anyone been tried for this crime, even through the use of such a weapon of mass destruction is against the Geneva protocol that bans chemical and biological warfare). Over half of the coastal mangrove forest of southern Vietnam was destroyed, and it normally takes decades for such mangroves to recover.
About 25.000 hectares of new mangrove trees were planted to protect Vietnams Southern coast. A study has shown that US$ 1.1 million was used to plant half of these trees but the local government saved more than US$ 7 million annually due to less maintenance of the sea dikes. In 2004, when Vietnam experienced the highest levels of floodwaters in 30 years the mangroves protected the dikes from damage.
The mangroves also benefit the fishing industry. Fish, shrimps, prawns and crabs have increased in number, because they needed the sheltered waters of the mangroves at the early stages of their lives. Finally, the mangroves also provide firewood and timber.
We cannot afford NOT to ensure that we are surrounded by a rich and bountiful nature. The Earth the other life forms can live without us. But the opposite is not the case.