Editor’s note: As part of the Evolutionary Studies Collaborative at St. Francis College, Gregory F. Tague initiated a Venture Lab in Experimental Arts and Humanities contest. Without reciting the detailed guidelines here, in a nutshell students at the college were asked to produce a hybrid writing/visual media work product that addressed this question: Emphasizing evolutionary ideas, how can we restore our biosphere, mitigate ecosystem degradation, or reverse extinction of rainforest plant and animal species critical to the sustainability of global climate health? What appears below by Wies Hurkmans, winner of the contest, represents an answer to the question.
Author’s bio: Born in the Netherlands, Wies Hurkmans was able to expand her cultural horizon after moving to the U.S. She has had the honor of traveling to a number of countries throughout the years. Now, after twelve years in the U.S., she is enrolled as a Pre-med Biology major while playing Division I volleyball at St. Francis College. In the summer of 2018, Wies traveled to and lived locally in Costa Rica for two months. This is where her interests on the protection of rainforests and its inhabitants began. Under the guidance of professors, Wies traveled to national parks (Corcovado, Carara, and Santa Rosa) and was embraced by a family in Monteverde.
Unsustainable Life with Degradation of Rainforests
Essay and Photo by Wies Hurkmans
Home to an estimated 8.7 million, flourishing species, a vulnerable future on earth is being generated as rainforests are uprooted by the development of innovative technologies and money-thirsty corporations. These most productive land masses found across the tropics are responsible for the vast majority of non-renewable resources, such as clean water, demanded by the ever-growing population and increased global consumption. Destruction due to agriculture, deforestation, and ecotourism are leading the remaining fifty percent of rainforest area to be demolished. In these areas, demolition provides a steady income for developing countries that are highly dependent on resources produced by cash crops and cattle ranching. The rainforests, however, function to provide the entire human population with necessities for survival; this includes the uptake of carbon dioxide and plants with medicinal compounds. Therefore, extreme measures for conservation must be implemented and backed up by proven statistics to portray the unsustainable, average human life style before earth is depleted of the resources we, as humans, desperately rely on for survival.
Annually, rainforest declines have totaled 78 million acres, which is 200,000 acres every day and 150 acres every minute. The greatest predators of land are directly wired to large corporations seeking to fulfill the demands of consumers, a market that is drastically increasing due to higher standards of living. Deforestation, for this purpose, is linked to the production of cash crops, animal farming, and tourism. Due to cash crops, produced for commercial export, like coffee beans and jackfruit which can only be grown in tropical environments, businesses thrive by clearing vast land areas, or habitats, that are made up of nutrient rich soil. In the same way areas are cleared for animal farming. Both of these incomes allow for money and resources that are shipped to foreign countries, but to add onto the concerns, this is directly related to an increase in toxic fumes and runoff. Toxicity soaks into soil and is mixed with nonrenewable water sources that are consumed by species hundreds of miles away. Many tropical countries, therefore, do not recommend tourists to drink unfiltered water due to contamination that supports the high standard of living. The developing countries are affected most as the rich pay for imports which in return leaves their land untouched.
Tropical plant and animal species are no match for the human power that is destroying habitats sustaining hotspots with endemics. As stated, there is an estimated 8.7 million species, which is widely contradicted to be lower or higher, but since species are going extinct before scientists can study an individual of the population, an accurate number is unidentifiable. Extinction is most prominently due to the destruction of habitats which leads to vulnerable species easily predated upon as they become more exposed. One of the animals that has foreseen danger is the white-faced capuchin, or Cebus imitator (Figure). Their advanced capabilities for adaptation has brought them to the tree tops where they are able to flourish. With continuous deforestation, however, this species will be one of the next on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species. The loss of this specific species will lead to the decline of plants that are dependent on these foragers’ seed dispersion. These evolutionary relationships can be spotted across the tropics, where species are unable to successfully reproduce if the human population destroys their pollinator, disperser, or food source. Over the course of time, crucial species for Homo sapiens survivability will decline around the globe as plants with medicinal compounds and animals with nutrient supplies are neglected.
Also known as carbon sinks, plants in the rainforests are responsible for removing almost 40 percent of carbon dioxide released by humankind. Not only do they keep the global temperature constant by decreasing the foreseen increases in temperature, but, as stated prior, medicinal compounds found within the species are necessary for the human population to survive; plant compounds are found in almost a quarter of modern medicine. Without the uptake of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen through photosynthesis, the air quality will be depleted to an uncontrolled extent and will lead to global warming. Oxygen is necessary for respiration and also acts in the protective layer in the ozone (O3) against ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The thinning of the ozone layer will increase UV radiation and can become the leading cause of eye implications as it burns through the cornea. Therefore, degradation of the rainforest will not only lead to extinction but also to physical damage. From air quality to food sources these eukaryotes, multicellular organisms made up of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), are the backbone of human well-being.
Throughout the latest slice of the Holocene epoch, or arguably the Anthropocene, tourism has developed into a colossal, prosperous business. To make it sound nature-friendly, “eco” has been added to the title. This term is a disguise for the complete destruction of land to build magnificent architectural hotels with nothing less than exquisite luxury. A regular eco tourist’s day begins with a long hot shower, a breakfast too big to finish, and then a bus to take them across town to one of many attractions. By the end of the early morning, various nonrenewable resources are discarded as unnecessary amenities. On the other hand, tropical countries make a huge chunk of their income from this business and have developed crucial ways to shrink the human footprint. This includes solar panels to reduce energy impacts, recycling of water, and even lectures that can be attended to learn about rainforests and the protection of them.
There have been leaps taken to provide a future for rainforests. Lectures, for example are a great way to educate people of all ages. One of multiple success stories began with a United States biologist working in Monteverde, Costa Rica, who traveled to Sweden to spread her obtained knowledge. There, while teaching a group of students, interests sparked and a desire to protect bloomed. Known as Bosque Eterno De Los Niños (BEN), or Children’s Eternal Rainforest, the students are at the core of the fundraising that has totaled protection of more than twenty-three thousand hectares of biological treasures. In addition, constructed parks have kept tourists out of notorious areas without failing to see the extravagant features of the tropics. Trails and tours are a source of protection while supplying locals with a significant income responsible for park rangers and an increase in the local standard of living.
Studies have predicted a great downfall in earth’s ability to sustain life if humankind continues this abuse. As rainforests are cleared, species lose their habitats and food sources, establishing many species as endangered. How would the human race secure an altered fate? Even with advanced adaptability, low oxygen levels and the loss of nonrenewable resources will just be the beginning of a long list of exploitation that is unfolding. Agriculture, deforestation, and ecotourism must be controlled to provide earth time to replenish. In the eyes of money-thirsty corporate organizations “time is money,” therefore strict laws will be one of the only ways to strip them of their overdue abuse. Led by an increase in knowledge, no change is too small as ripple effects can travel across towns and spread beyond just personal gain.
Figure. Photo of Cebus imitator taken in Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica. As the troop passed by the campground their curiosity brought them down from the canopy into the understory layer of the forest.
Seeker. “What Would A World Look Like When the Rainforests Disappear?” Seeker, 11 Feb. 2017.
Black, Richard. “Species Count Put at 8.7 Million.” BBC News, BBC, 23 Aug. 2011.
Taylor, Leslie. “Saving the Rainforest: A Complex Problem and a Simple Solution.” The Raintree Group, Inc.
Essay and Photograph copyright©2019 by Wies Hurkmans – All Rights Reserved