Seasons greetings from Wild Open Eye. 2011 will surely be remembered for a great many things, economic upheavals in the Eurozone and The Arab Spring movements for democratic change in the Middle East are notable examples. For us at Wild Open Eye this year the importance of protecting the great forests of the world has been in sharp focus.
We were very impressed by, and in some small measure able to assist, the Durham University-based student group Canopy To Cures with their media documentation of their ethno-botanical research expedition to the Manu Forest Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon. Forest preservation is crucially important for the advancement of medical science. With the donation of a zoom telephoto lens we hope that we’ve helped these STEM Ambassadors to bring their very important subject matter into clear focus for their environmental education outreach activities in class-rooms and at Science fairs across Britain.
Shortly afterwards WildOpenEye was very proud to have filmed and produced a public service announcement for the United Nations Development Program – “The Sound Of A Tree Not Falling” that will be aired throughout the Asia-Pacific region. It was great to film in Thailand and Sabah for this project and to meet some really dedicated people working to protect important forest resources for future generations. This short film packs a big message and encourages us all, as a united human race, to reflect upon the consequences, implications and ramifications of not cutting the world’s great forests.
Yes, you read that correctly. We immediately warmed to the positive philosophy of the message – yes, abject misery is the direct consequence of irresponsible felling and forest burning, but how much better to focus upon the gifts that great forests endow while they are intact, rather than upon the horrors that result from their removal.
In this vein here follows a catechism of praise for these great lungs of of our ecosystem, day in day out the great forests help us by drawing in the Carbon dioxide and excess water of our atmosphere, converting that carbon into myriad forms of life and giving off life-giving oxygen and transpired water that will fall again as rain to support the precious web of life that makes up our ecological life-support system. The rainforests are thought to be about 30 million years old and have been providing essential services throughout the process of human evolution from our tree-shrew-like first primate ancestors up to our modern selves in 2011.
Intact forests, when utilised sustainably, provide far more than the mere cellulose of their trunks and limbs could ever do. The following is not an exhaustive list of their services:
Their roots bind the soil, protecting it from erosion, aerate it, break down minerals and make them available for biological integration, create humus soil that absorbs and retains water for gradual release and provides essential nutrients, they also supply surface area habitat for symbiotic micro-organisms. Mangrove tree roots purify water by trapping sediments that would otherwise choke coral reefs, they build land and provide safe haven for fish and shrimp nurseries. The coral reefs in turn calm coastal waters providing barriers to erosive wave action and natural surfactants that reduce surface water tension. The reefs provide shelter for sea grass meadows (prime Dugong habitat) , and for coral grazing fish that excrete the sand that builds the beaches upon which Sea turtles lay their eggs.
Forest trees far inland deliver fresh water and nutrients in reasonable and regular measure to the rivers, thus sustaining and enriching the lives of riparian and coastal communities and providing opportunity for community micro-hydro electricity generation too.
Trunks, branches, leaves and flowers
The trees trunks, branches and leaves of forest trees provide a huge surface area for wildlife habitat in the vertical column, allowing other life-forms to get off the ground. These structures support a great diversity of epiphytic plant life (other plants that live on the trees) and a great diversity of creatures. Most jungle wildlife lives at least part of its life up in the canopy. The trees are essential for nesting, evading predators, successful reproduction and of course, provision of food.
As primary food producers through photosynthesis, the forests provide leaves, fruit, nuts, spices and flowers that sustain forest animals and peoples. Ecotourism to the forests can provide sustainable revenues and local employment over the long term. Tropical forest timber can be harvested sustainably and processed locally to maximize added value. Traditional medicines and newly discovered medicinal compounds already form the bulk of our pharmacopia, there’s good reason to believe that there are many more plant-derived medicines awaiting scientific application for the benefit of mankind.
All in all, it’s fair to say that the greatest long-term value to us as a species lies in preservation of the greatest biodiversity.
When forest is damaged the consequences can be severe. In September of this year there were yet more dangerous air quality incidents in Southern Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia from forest burning in Indonesia, the flooding in Bangkok was exacerbated by damaged forest watersheds in the north of the Kingdom and recently we’ve seen flood victims on the news from badly deforested Mindanao in The Republic of The Philippines.
From a film-maker’s perspective I must congratulate the people in Thailand who made a series of advisory videos for residents of Bangkok. The one linked below acknowledges the role that deforestation has played in damaging watersheds upcountry, exacerbating this year’s flooding in Bangkok and its environs.
It’s hoped that plans proposed by his Royal Highness The King of Thailand to create flood control measures to ameliorate future flooding will be successfully implemented.
New year is traditionally a time for reflection and as we approach 2012 it seems apt to reflect upon the importance of forest conservation to local communities and to regional economies.
Is it possible to put a price on the sort of natural services that healthy forests provide? Too often its the cost of the absence of such services that makes the strongest impression upon us.
Here follows an interesting video on the subject by Pavan Sukhdev in which he explores some thought provoking environmental economics.
There is growing recognition of the importance of forest conservation, and sometimes the good news is overwhelmed by the bad. I’ll end this post with a short video made by the Wildlife Conservation Society in cooperation with the Thai Government that shows superb video footage taken this year from wildlife trails in the Huai Kha Keng Wildlife Sanctuary. It shows some of the rich biodiversity that lives in this well-managed forest reserve.
On that light note Wild Open Eye will close this post by wishing us all a happy and more sustainably prosperous new year.