Ecological restoration is the process of repairing sites in nature whose biological communities and ecosystem have been degraded or destroyed.
By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
On 22nd February 2021, Pakistan announced that it will host World Environment Day 2021 in partnership with UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This year’s observance of world environment Day is on the theme” ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION” and focuses on resetting our relation with nature. It will also mark the formal launch of the “UN DECADE OF ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION 2021-2030.” World Environment Day takes place every year on 5th June. It is the United Nation’s flagship day for promoting worldwide awareness and actions for the environment. Over the years, it has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people across the World.
Ecological restoration is the process of repairing sites in nature whose biological communities and ecosystem have been degraded or destroyed. In many ecosystems, human have altered local native populations of plants and animals, introduced invasive species, converted natural communities to extractive use such as agriculture or mining, fouled waters and degraded soil resources. Ecological restoration focuses on repairing the damage human activities have caused to natural ecosystem and seeks to return them to an earlier state or another state that is closely related to one unaltered by human activities. Ecological restoration is distinguished from the practice of conservation, which is primarily concern with preventing further losses to ecosystem. To repair and restore ecosystem, restoration specialists apply concepts from the field of ecology. For example, in temperate coniferous forest, plant species provide food and shelter for various animals. The forest ecosystem provides important services such as nutrient cycling, both for the animals that live there and for human who use the forest for timber and recreation. To remain health, many forest species rely on periodic disturbances such as wildfires. However some disturbances such as deforestation are so damaging that they may instead impair the normal functioning of the forest by increasing soil erosion or by eliminating wildlife habitats. Thus restoration ecologists must understand the ecosystem pattern of ecological disturbances. In order to restore a deforested site, restoration ecologists often attempt to reverse the ecological changes caused by the removal of trees and other plants, the displacement of animals and changes to the now exposed soil, which may be more prone to drying and erosion after deforestation. Ecological succession, the long-term evolution of the structure of an ecosystem’s biological community that follows a disturbance event is also an important part of the restoration process.
The restoration of ecosystem is one of the objective repeatedly established in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)14 i.e conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development and SDG-15 i.e. protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystem, sustainably manage forest, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. It is generally targeted in SDG-14.2: to take action for the restoration of marine and costal ecosystem. It is also written with a commitment date in SDG15: by 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services.SDG15.1: by 2030combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil including land affected by desertification and draught and floods and strive to achieve a land degradation neutral world(SDG15.3). We do not include here, to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics (SDG14.2) because this statement focuses on the recovery of fish population while ER focuses the recovery of ecosystem. So, restoration of degraded ecosystem is a key point to achieve sustainable development goals. In fact the restoration of ecosystem is an activity increasingly taking place at all the spatial scale. One of the essential objectives is the recovery of the structure and functions of natural ecosystems, the inherent characterizes of natural ecosystem. This is referred to as “restore” in the SDGs. An ecosystem can provide different services. However there may be trade-offs between the provisions of services by an ecosystem. In contrast, a territory made of a mosaic of ecosystem can provide a combination of different services decreasing their trade-offs and optimizing the provisions of a set of services. Then the restoration of degraded ecosystems can be planned and implemented to recover and to improve the provision of ecosystem services. This is particularly adequate for the restoration of territories where different areas can provide different services. Then the restoration of territories as watersheds can be oriented to obtain a planned combination of ecosystem services. This can include the provision of food and raw materials and support, regulation and cultural services which maintain the sustainability of the territory. This approach, planning and implementing the restoration to provide a combination of ecosystem services is a tool for the sustainable development of territories as it integrates the provision of human demanded services and inherent characteristics of natural ecosystem which support the ecological functioning of the whole system.
If the objective is the restoration of a homogeneous area, the same ecosystem type e.g. a wetland, a forest, a costal lagoon, the traditional way of planning the restoration is in comparison with a reference ecosystem in good ecological state, which offers the target objectives for the restoration. However there are alternative to substitute this gap. For example, defining a series of characteristics from an ecosystem type theoretically define as similar to the reference system; also from historical or paleo-ecological information. Following this approach, ecological restoration is achieving a certain degree of success. In general restoring ecosystem takes a long time. In other words, not all the objectives are achieved or it takes long time, which is not usually covered by monitoring. It may take 25 years or more to recover major characteristics of wetlands and even after longer periods of time. Some key characteristics remained about 25% lower than the reference wetlands. Restoration does not result in full recovery of biodiversity and vegetation structure but can complement old- growth forest if there is sufficient time for ecological succession. Recovery of different characteristics of aquatic ecosystem may range 1-80 years. In fact the degree of restoration success depends on many factors including initial state of degradation compared to the reference system, the landscape relationship of the restored ecosystem and the intensity of the restoration actions; it will take longer the first one to show the same restoration result than the second one. Having a strong and close link with other areas of the territory will favor the colonization by species and water and biogeochemical exchanges. It is quite common to remark the relevance of applying a type of passive restoration for the efficiency of the actions. However quite degraded ecosystem e.g mine zone, abandoned agricultural land, polluted areas, channelized rivers usually require active restoration( intensive geomorphological arrangements) incorporating good quality soil, re- vegetation to start and progress their restoration.
(By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh is Asst Prof JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. He can be reached at [email protected])