Natural landmarks often serve as hotbeds of biodiversity, sources of human sustenance, and critical equalizers of global ecological stability. Unfortunately, many such ecosystems are under severe threat from human activities. Here are four natural landmarks that must be preserved.
1. Amazon Rainforest, South America
The Amazon is home to 10% of the world’s known species. It is also the world’s most important carbon sink. It is also one of the most endangered biospheres on the planet. We could go on.
The tropical forest was left untouched until the 1960s, at which point farmers adopted slash and burn agriculture. Since then, forests have been cut down and burned to fertilize the soil. (This is something many have been made aware of by recent news.) Rainfall makes the top layer of soil highly viable for crops, but turns the land barren over the years, forcing further and further decimation of the forest. However, slash and burn agriculture accounts for only a small portion of deforestation. It is estimated that 80% of deforestation is driven by cattle farming in the Amazon.
2. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
“The Great Barrier Reef is a site of remarkable variety and beauty on the north-east coast of Australia," according to UNESCO. "It also holds great scientific interest as the habitat of species such as the dugong (‘sea cow’) and the large green turtle.”
It is also ever-closer to being wiped out. Farm pollution, port construction, and fishing all contribute to the decline in the reef, but global warming is the greatest threat to the biome. Rising water temperatures cause symbiotic polyps that live inside coral to migrate outward, leaving the coral bleached and unable to survive. When the coral dies, it removes primary producers from the food chain, leading to collapse. Bleaching events continue to occur in waves as a response to rising temperatures. In 2016 alone, 30% of remaining shallow-water corals were bleached.
3. Yangtze, China
The Yangtze River in China is the world’s third longest river. The River supports half of China’s wildlife, including numerous endangered and endemic species. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most polluted rivers on the planet, holding 2.75 million tons of plastic, 55% of all marine plastic pollution. In addition to serving as home to rare and endangered wildlife, the Yangtze is an important source of water for people in nearby regions, but the region continues to face threats from continued rapid development and pollution.
4. Everglades, Florida
The tropical wetlands of South Florida are a complex and unique ecosystem. It is one of the largest of its kind because it derives water from rainfall rather than from river flooding. Endemic species include the American alligator and the American crocodile as well as the critically endangered Florida panther. Within the Everglades, nine different ecosystems work together through feedback cycles to sustain life. While the state government aims to take action, development, nutrient pollution, invasive species, and sea level rise continue to threaten the Everglades.
Preserving Our Future
Without measurable action to preserve these critical ecosystems, the future could be marked by the loss of countless species. It could also do great harm to the human race. Whether for the sake of natural wonder or for self-preservation, it is imperative we take action to save these important places.