World Rainforest Day: A Day of Hope or Despair?
June 22 marked this year’s World Rainforest Day, a day that may have slipped under the radar for many, but one that represented a stark call to action for people and organizations at the vanguard of nature conservation.
According to a 2020 report by Rainforest Foundation Norway, just 36% of the rainforest cover that existed before pre-industrial times remains intact. In 2021 alone, the world lost 11.1 million hectares of rainforest – an average of ten soccer fields per minute.
L. Illegal logging decimates swathes of the Amazon / R. Forest cleared in Malaysia to make way for an oil palm plantation
For many of us, urban life makes the fate of rainforests an unwelcome but faraway concept that’s measured in decades. However, what’s happening to these ecosystems and the impact that their destruction will have on global biodiversity and humanity’s collective well-being is much closer to home than we think.
Deforestation means mass extinctions
Despite covering 6-8% of the earth’s land surface, rainforests are home to around 50% of our planet’s terrestrial flora and fauna, a genetic treasure trove that reflects a diversity of species evolved over 70 million years in the earth’s oldest ecosystems.
While this alone is sufficient justification for their protection, rainforests have intrinsic value to us. For example, they provide a rich resource for medical research and therapies, with 70% of the plants that have anti-cancer properties originating from rainforests, including the lapacho tree and tawari tree bark.
They are also the source of many of the consumables we use on a daily basis – think of spices like black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla, and nutmeg; wood such as rosewood, balsa, and sandalwood; and, of course, many of the things we know and love, including coffee, cocoa, and an array of fruits and vegetables.
The United Nations reports that up to one million plant and animal species currently face the threat of extinction. And the threat is very real, with 137 species disappearing forever per day from tropical rainforests.
From carbon sink to carbon source
As well as being biodiversity hotspots and nature’s pharmacy, rainforests have historically been a limiter to global warming, absorbing twice as much CO2 than they emit – a net 16 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year while emitting 8 billion.
However, an alarming shift in rainforests from carbon sink to carbon source is well underway as a result of deforestation. While young and standing forests serve as carbon sinks, cleared and degraded forests serve as sources.
In fact, the last two decades has seen forests across Southeast Asia become a net source of carbon emissions due to clearing for plantations, uncontrolled fires, and soil damage. Of the world’s three largest tropical rainforests, only the Congo rainforest has enough tree cover remaining to be a strong net carbon sink.
While the Brazilian Amazon is still (just about) a net absorber of carbon, the Amazon basin as a whole – which covers eight countries – is a net emitter of CO2. And if current trends continue for the rest of the year, 2022 will represent the fastest deforestation of the Amazon ecosystem for 14 years, another body blow to mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity.
Major causes of deforestation
Alongside unchecked forest fires, the vast bulk of deforestation on a global scale occurs due to human activity, with the main culprits being urbanization, the expansion of farming, and logging.
Illegal logging accounts for up to 90% of the logging witnessed in tropical rainforests, a practice that is devastating to forest ecosystems and biodiversity. The dominant practice of selective logging, which targets one or two tree types, is particularly damaging, as felling one large tree can bring down dozens of surrounding trees that are connected to it by vines. Reducing the protective tree canopy increases sunlight and drying winds, which can decimate the soil organisms required for decomposition and nutrient-fixing. In turn, drying out the leaf litter increases the likelihood of fires taking hold – another major cause of deforestation.
Stopping illegal logging is an essential step towards saving what remains of our rainforests.
As our partner Rainforest Connection (RFCx) puts it, “The reason we start with a focus on stopping illegal logging is because, in case after case, we have seen first-hand that if you can protect the trees, you end up protecting everything else.”
Is there a solution?
Today’s technological advancements have put us in a position to understand ecosystems and monitor environmental threats in a way that was impossible even a decade ago.
Developed by RFCx, each Nature Guardian system comprises a solar-powered mini-computer placed high up in tree canopies to detect environmental sounds over an area of 3 km2.
Photos by RFCx: Installing a Guardian device where it can’t be seen in the Philippines
The audio data is then transmitted over a telecommunications network to a cloud platform where AI models can pick out whatever sounds the team are interested in.
These include vehicles, chainsaws, dogs, human voices, gunshots, and anything else that constitutes a threat. Real-time alerts can be sent to an app on rangers’ phones, allowing them to intervene in near real-time.
The Guardian devices can also collect the vocalizations of target species, which can deliver unparalleled insights into their populations, distributions, and behaviours, and can in turn guide conservation measures. Endangered umbrella species are particularly valuable for study, as their well-being has a knock-on effect on the whole ecosystem in which they live.
What progress has been made?
Read more about the projects in which Huawei is partnering with Rainforest Connection and other local partners to protect threatened ecosystems under our TECH4ALL initiative.
Rainforests and forests [Primary objective]
- Malaysia: Sarawak Rainforest [anti-logging]
- Costa Rica, Osa Peninsula [anti-logging, bioacoustics monitoring of the spider monkey]
- Chile, Nahuelbuta [bioacoustics monitoring of the Darwin’s fox]
- Philippines, Palawan Rainforest [anti-logging, illegal activities]
- Greece, Aoos Gorge Greece [anti-poaching, anti-logging]
Forest, Wetlands & Oceans [Primary objective]
- Italy, Burano, Ortbetello & Astroni Crater [anti-poaching, illegal activities, bioacoustics monitoring]
- Austria, Lake Neusiedl National Park [bioacoustics monitoring of wading birds & freshwater ponds]
- Ireland, Cork [bioacoustics monitoring of cetaceans: whales, dolphins & porpoises]
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Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.