Habitat destruction is one of the biggest threats facing plants and animal species throughout the world. The loss of habitat has far-reaching impacts on the planet’s ability to sustain life, but even with the challenges, there is hope for the future.
Habitat destruction, defined as the elimination or alteration of the conditions necessary for animals and plants to survive, not only impacts individual species but the health of the global ecosystem.
Habitat loss is primarily, though not always, human-caused. The clearing of land for farming, grazing, mining, drilling, and urbanization impact the 80 percent of global species who call the forest home. Approximately 15 billion trees are cut down each year. According to a study about tree density published in Nature, the number of trees worldwide has decreased by 46 percent since the start of civilization. In addition to the loss of habitat, deforestation reduces the ability of forests to provide the critical benefit of absorbing carbon, which helps to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The situation is even worse in waterways, coastal areas, and the ocean. Coastal estuaries and marshes provide breeding grounds for the majority of marine species. As they, along with inland wetlands, are dredged and filled, species are less able to birth and support their young. Pollution and effluents from the land travel easily through streams and rivers to the ocean, where they impact the health of fish, birds, and marine plants. Deforestation far from shore can cause erosion that enters the water and deposits silt into the shallow marine waters, blocking the sunlight that coral reefs need to survive.
Despite the habitat loss that has occurred globally to date, there is still hope. Studies reveal that by protecting 50 percent of the land and ocean around the world, plant and animal species could thrive. Today, only 15 percent of the land and 7 percent of the ocean is protected, leaving us with a challenging yet attainable goal.
The Campaign for Nature calls upon world leaders to take action in helping to protect 30 percent of the Earth’s land and ocean by 2030, on the way to 50 percent of the planet in a natural state by 2050. This commitment represents our best opportunity to preserve the ecosystems necessary for our survival.