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Human Footprint Devastating Wildlife: An Article For Earth Day

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Animals can be beautiful; they can be sleek, graceful, powerful, or just plain adorable, even cuddly.   A field of wild flowers chanced upon can take your breath away.  Wordsworth so moved by ‘a host of golden daffodils’ put pen to paper, and we are richer for his poem.  And tourists in their thousands visit coral reefs for their stunning beauty and sea life.  So it is distressing when scientists confirm our gut feelings about the human footprint on this natural environment.

Few people know that March 3 was World Wildlife Day, or this coming Sunday (April 22) is Earth Day — perhaps Trump sucking up all the media oxygen is responsible.  The fact remains, world wildlife is under serious threat, and in ways we can’t even imagine — not forgetting the eventual disaster due to climate change, unless the world wakes up.

Not so long ago Science, the voice of AAAS America’s largest science body, published three papers describing the harmful, even devastating, impact of modern human presence.

The first is a mammoth global study spanning the four major continents and New Zealand.  Authored by over one hundred scientists, it follows the movements of 57 mammalian species through the GPS-tracking of 803 individuals.  It finds a strong negative effect of the human footprint on animal movement.

The scientists develop a human footprint index (HFI) comprising multiple aspects of human influence:  built environment, croplands, pastures, nighttime lights, roads, waterways, railroads, population density, etc.  On the animal side, they note and separate the effects of resource availability and body mass on vagility (migration distances) — larger species travel further as do carnivores.

They then compute animal movement as the distance between subsequent GPS locations over nine time scales ranging from one hour to 10 days.  At each time scale and for each individual, they calculate the median (middle range) and longest distance movements. These procedures point to the thoroughness of their research.

Overall the findings indicate a decline in movement of mammals in high HFI areas ranging on average from one-half to one-third of their movement levels in areas without human presence.  For example, the median displacement of carnivores over the 10 day period in high HFI areas was only about half when compared to zero impact regions.  And the long distance movement over the same period in HFI areas was down to a third, averaging 6.6 km versus 21.5 km.  The impact on feeding and breeding then is clearly severe.

The authors note the consequences for ecosystem function globally, the effects being critical for wildlife conservation and also in the spread of disease.  In the latter aspect, the authors warn that “reduced vagility may go beyond ecosystem functioning to directly affect human well-being.”  In their understated words it means dangers of animal extinction and human epidemics.

Most of us always assume all bees are good.  Apparently not, as a couple of scientists explain.  So as we reach for that honey jar … ; it all depends on where it came from. That is the contention of the second piece which assesses the impact of managed honey bees on wild bees and other pollinators.

Pointing to the rapid global growth in managed bee colonies and the attention devoted to them, the authors believe this focus reduces efforts to preserve wild pollinators so necessary for wild plants and flowers.  In fact, high densities of such bees worsen the decline of these wild pollinators, and have also been linked to the spread of disease via shared wild flowers.  Long term this is a worsening threat to wild plants and flowers, many facing extinction.

The authors identify managed honeybees and their honey production and pollination of commercial crops as an agricultural issue, not an ecological one.  They advocate restriction of managed honey beehives in protected-ecological areas to reduce their harmful effects  noting that half of all European wild bees are threatened with extinction.

The theme for Earth Day is End Plastic Pollution.  If one ever wondered what can happen to a plastic bag discarded carelessly, the following research has a surprising and worrying answer.

This third Science article looks at plastic waste entering the oceans, often through catchment areas into rivers feeding into the ocean.  It assesses the influence of such waste on disease in reef-building corals.  The authors survey 159 coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific, a region containing 55.5 percent of global reefs and 73 percent of the human population living within 50 km of a coast — about a quarter billion people.

An estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste pollutes the oceans each year.  A model based on a high end figure of 8 million estimates that more than a quarter of this is pouring in from just 10 rivers, eight in Asia.  Of these the Yangtze alone dumps 1.5 million metric tons each year.  The river waste is a result of mismanagement and clearly can be reduced given resources and better waste collection and disposal practices.

In the oceans, microbes hitch a ride on the plastic, living longer and increasing their chances of landing on an unfortunate host.  The authors have measured plastic items per 100 square meters.  The count can vary from a low of 0.4 in Australia to a high of 25.6 in Indonesia.  Size of human population in coastal regions, good management or mismanagement of plastic waste disposal are all factors in the amount of waste entering the water.

The authors estimate 80 percent of marine plastic debris originates from land, thus offering a possibility of significant reduction through better waste management.  They develop a prediction model showing that by 2025 the waste will almost double in low-income countries like Myanmar but will edge up just 1 percent in Australia.  In total, they estimate a colossal 11.1 billion plastic items entangled on reefs across the Asia-Pacific region and expect the number to increase 40 percent by 2025 without stronger waste management intervention.

The study results are striking.  The likelihood of disease rises from 4 percent in areas free of plastic to an average of 89 percent when the coral has such debris.  Another issue is coral structural complexity which underpins micro-habitats for reef-reliant organisms.  Unfortunately, the study finds that plastic debris is up to 8 times more likely to affect reefs with greater structural complexity.  This lack of habitat can devastate fisheries through a drop in productivity by a factor of three.  Thus public awareness here could be a critical factor.

The parrots in the local pet store are almost always at risk.  It is human encroachment the owner tells us.  Forests are cut down, reducing habitat and food sources, and diminishing parrot populations.  Farmers plant crops in the cleared areas.  The parrots may or may not eat these but are perceived as a threat and often killed, further endangering them.

Once upon a time, millions of rhinos roamed across Africa and Asia; now about 30,000 survive, and many species are extinct or about to be.  Sudan, the last male northern white rhino lived at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya together with his daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu.  He was 45, equivalent to 90 in human age, and quite infirm.  Earlier this year, when his condition deteriorated to the extent he was unable to stand, the vets decided to euthanize.  Hope lies with in vitro fertilization, and in the genetic material the vets collected from him.  At some future date, it might be possibly to use this to create an embryo with stem cell technology.

The engaging, lovable and cuddly koala is in danger from environmental effects.  its unusual diet of eucalyptus leaves carry a toxin it can usually handle, but increased CO2 levels reduce nutrition and eating more leads to ingesting more poison.  Add to this the Australian drought drying the leaves, leaving little moisture and resulting in kidney damage.

The human footprint also threatens the snow leopard, most closely related to the tiger not its namesake.  Ranging across the high mountain areas of central Asia, China and Mongolia, and revered in Kyrgyzstan, it has become a victim of human-wildlife conflict.  The herders whose livelihood depends on their sheep, goats and yaks do not take kindly to raiding snow leopards.  But their natural prey, the wild ungulates are suffering sharp declines due to competition with domestic herds.  Yet this animal is an example of what a concerted effort to save a species can accomplish.  Its status has been upgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’.

Altogether, these studies and cases convey a stark warning.  They show that environmental degradation is the promise of a dismal future in which mammalian wildlife is scarce, wild pollinators and consequently wild flowers and plants are sparse, and beautiful coral reefs succumb to plastic waste-borne bacteria depleting reef-supported fisheries.  This is our legacy unless we take a step back to reassess human wants for their impact on the environment.

Author’s note:  A version of this article appeared in Common Dreams

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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Green Planet

Scientists turn underwater gardeners to save precious marine plant

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Whoever said there’s nothing more boring than watching grass grow, wasn’t thinking about seagrass. Often confused with seaweeds and rarely receiving the attention they deserve, there’s nothing boring about seagrasses. In fact, they are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world.

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Next time you are swimming and enjoying the sea’s cool embrace look down and try to spot the slender blades of seagrass, a remarkable marine plant that plays a vital role in the coastal environment but is now under threat.

Forming dense underwater meadows, seagrasses are vital to maintain fisheries, absorb carbon and protect coastlines from erosion – but their future is threatened by climate change, pollution and other impacts of human activities, scientists say. 

The plants grow in shallow coastal waters in all regions except the Antarctic. They act as nurseries or feeding grounds for hundreds of species of seafood, including sea bream, octopus, cuttlefish and Alaska pollock – one of the most fished species in the world.

In the Mediterranean alone at least 30% of the value of commercial fisheries landings comes from fish that rely on seagrass for food and protection while they are young. They also provide important fishing grounds for recreational fishing.

‘Despite covering a very low proportion of our ocean floor, they make a significant contribution to fisheries and local economies,’ said Marija Sciberras, assistant professor of fisheries conservation at Scotland’s Heriot Watt University.

Dr Sciberras studied seagrass meadows in Mallorca as part of a project called PIONEER. She found that fish had higher body mass in areas with higher density of seagrass.

But the growth rate of juvenile fish was higher in areas with lower density of seagrass. This could be because they need to grow fast because they are more exposed to predators, she said.

Seagrass stress

Seagrass species globally are facing growing stress caused by human activities. The underwater meadows are sometimes ripped up to make way for new port infrastructure, dykes, or seawalls – even though the plants protect coastlines from storm erosion.

In regions where seagrasses are protected by law – including the European Union – they must be reforested if this happens. But attempts to do so often fail, said Francesca Rossi, senior researcher at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Côte d’Azur.

‘They try to plant seagrasses in areas where they weren’t before’ – locations which are not their natural habitat – said Dr Rossi, who is coordinator of HEALSEA project.

Seagrasses can also be uprooted by boats which anchor over them or drag fishing equipment through them, leaving bare sediment behind. It can take years for them to recover.

HEALSEA researcher Laura Soissons studied the impact of yet another stressor that affects seagrass: pollution from fertilisers. This can reduce the amount of light reaching seagrass leaves and slow their growth.

Dr Soissons found that seagrasses often show no obvious signs of stress until they pass a tipping point after which they suddenly collapse.

Researchers want to find ways to spot signs of stress in the plants before they reach that tipping point. These could be used help to protect seagrasses – and other species, said Dr Rossi.

The impact of declining meadows on fish species, for example, is likely to be devastating, she said. ‘If we don’t have a habitat where the species can feed, hide or reproduce … this species is lost.’

‘Seagrass is fundamentally important for all coastal ecosystems and for humans, because they create life, they protect life and they protect from coastal erosion,’ she added.

Despite the crucial role they play, data on the existence and decline of seagrass meadows is limited. However, a picture is emerging of plants struggling to survive in many regions.

One study in the Mediterranean found that between 13% and 50% of the areal extent of one species – Posidonia oceanica – was lost between 1842 and 2009. The remaining meadows may have lost much of their shoot density and become more fragmented.

Globally, rates of seagrass decline average about 7% a year according to another study.

Carbon sink

Any decline in seagrass could affect oceans’ ability to absorb carbon.

Seagrass meadows absorb carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, according to WWF. And although they only cover 0.2% of the sea floor, they absorb 10% of the oceans’ carbon each year, the conservation organisation says.

Unlike many land plants, seagrasses store most of the carbon they absorb in their roots, so the carbon remains buried underground even after they die.

Species which grow faster or have denser structures are particularly good at absorbing carbon. So the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon is impacted both if seagrass meadows shrink in size, and if certain species are lost, said Nick Kamenos, Reader in Global Change at Britain’s University of Glasgow.

Climate change

And that decline could worsen with climate change, which is already warming seawaters and increasing their acidification. 

Dr Kamenos coordinated a project called SEAMET which studied the impact of climate change on seagrasses in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. They also tested plants in the laboratory.

The researchers found that plants respond differently to temperature rises, depending on the species and their location. But many are at risk, especially those already living at the limits of their heat tolerance, said Dr Kamenos.

Meadows in the Arctic are also at high risk, he said. This region is projected to have the fastest rate of warming over the century, and rapid acidification.

Variable temperatures are another risk linked to climate change. Plants which have been used to stable conditions for millennia are unlikely to tolerate temperatures which change from year to year, said Dr Kamenos.

The combination of rapid warming and increased variability in temperatures ‘can push some of these systems over the edge’, he said.

Acidification is another threat. It damages plants and animals with calcium carbonate structures, including tiny marine plants called coralline algae which live in seagrass meadows. These algae are important in absorbing carbon.

‘How seagrasses will respond to climate change is still not well understood,’ said Dr Kamenos. ‘But the evidence is that it’s not fantastic,’ he added.

One important way to help seagrasses cope with its impacts is to protect them from other stressors including pollution and damage from construction and boats.

The EU has set targets to protect 30% of its sea area, restore marine ecosystems and curb pollution in its waters. Globally, more than 70 countries are pushing for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to adopt a target of protecting 30% of marine waters by 2030.

Improving their habitat will give seagrasses ‘a very small amount of extra breathing space until we can get a grip on climate change’, said Dr Kamenos.

“But that is not an excuse to be to be lethargic about acting on climate change because there… we need to act fast,” he added.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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Introducing India’s first ever diving grant

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Mumbai-based Vidhi Bubna, the founder of ‘Coral Warriors’, India’s first ever diving grant, is a keen humanitarian and is passionate about conserving marine life. ‘Coral Warriors’ focuses on making diving more accessible to Indian citizens and raising awareness about the impact of climate change and underwater pollution on corals.

Coral reefs are the basis for the formation of other organisms and are integral to marine ecosystems. They maintain levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and purify by absorbing toxic elements in the water. However, they survive only in specific conditions. Climate change and growing industrialization are negatively impacting the corals at a large scale. Layers of toxic chemicals in the water prevent sunlight reaching the corals, which results in severe damage. Scientists from the University of Hawaii, Manoa predict that over 70% of all living coral will disappear in the next 20 years.

In this interview, Vidhi talks about her inspirations and what it means to be a Coral Warrior.

To start with, could you summarize what Coral Warriors does?

Coral Warriors is India’s first-ever diving grant. We essentially sponsor Indian citizens to go diving; they can choose the location they want to dive at. Our goal is to get more youth involved in diving so they can see the prevalent coral damage first-hand and do something about it. Many Indians don’t know what corals are, and we’d like to create awareness as well as save the corals.

What inspired you to start this organization? Why have you chosen to focus on corals?

I am an advanced scuba diver myself and have witnessed coral damage in Andamans, while learning to dive, as well as in the Maldives. I wanted to do something about this issue because most Indians aren’t aware about marine pollution, and simply aren’t doing enough.

What sort of change does Coral Warriors strive to bring about?

The first change we want to bring about is creating more awareness about corals, so people can help protect them. We also want to see more Indians involved in adventure activities like diving. In my experience, when a child wants to learn an adventure sport, most Indian parents aren’t supportive enough as they believe these sports are risky. I would love to see that change, and support people who are unable to access enough funds to go diving.

How does Coral Warriors select the most deserving candidates for the grant?

Out of the numerous grant applications we receive, we have an independent selection committee that chooses the candidates. Sponsoring all the applicants would be unrealistic because funds are limited. The committee selects the people that are passionate about climate change as well as deserving of the scholarship. Ideally, these people would be able to bring about a lot of change- and could even be the next Greta Thunberg!

What obstacles have you faced since the organization started?

One of the main obstacles has been acquiring funding. There are plenty of organisations focused on air pollution and road pollution. Both of these are visible; thus they get more funding. Most people are unable to observe the coral degradation underwater. Hence getting funding from the public, especially in India, is a challenging task.
Coral Warriors does accept donations, and also approaches universities abroad for funding. Universities abroad are generally more aware of marine damage, and therefore are more likely to help.

How is Coral Warriors looking to spread awareness on coral ecosystems?

As far as creating awareness goes, we host free online workshops where we talk about coral damage and environmental impact. Additionally, we offer an in-depth education about marine biodiversity- one cannot even imagine the abundancy of marine life. For instance, seeing a manta ray for the first time will change your life. You would never have seen something that beautiful before.

If there were three things you want the reader of this interview to take away, what would they be?

The first thing is that climate change is very real. We should not pay heed to people who tell us otherwise. The second thing is, just because we cannot see marine life and the ongoing underwater pollution, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It is happening as we speak right now. The third thing is that as we know these things are occurring, we should collectively be able to do something about it. These are the three main takeaways I would want readers to absorb.

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Green Planet

The Meeting Point between Pandemic and Environmental

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Humans in the Anthropocene

Humans are born from history, on the other hand, history is born from human life. Currently, humans have been in the Anthropocene, the era after the Holocene, a time when humans were more powerful in nature. This results in an imbalance of give and take activities between humans and the nature they inhabit. With rapid population growth, human needs will also increase. This increase in human needs will have an impact on the availability of existing natural resources. Exploitation of natural products such as coal, natural gas and others, this is accompanied by waste from production and human activities that produce waste in many sectors of life. What has been exploited by humans the impact is no longer comparable to what nature gives. Although nature has the ability to self-regenerate, but with human activities that are so aggressive in this era of globalization, it defeats the natural processes of nature. The presence of factories around the world after the steam engine and the industrial revolution occurred, weapons such as missiles, atomic bombs as a means of war for fellow humans, rockets and all kinds of vehicles of human ambition to export nature, all produce residual waste that is released, resulting in a large carbon footprint. affect the atmosphere which is as a protector and temperature regulator on earth. Not to mention the mining of many other crops.

The question that may often be asked but doesn’t need to be answered is “why should humans care about all that?”

In the last 100 years, the earth’s average temperature has increased between 0.4 to 0.8 C. The ambition of the countries in the world today is 1.5 degrees Celsius, whereas humans are facing the risk of an increase of 4 degrees, which means it will be the same with the temperatures that occurred between the Ice Age and the Holocene. In other words, humans are still far behind with the rate of destruction that exists. This warming will result in the emergence of many disasters in human life. Global warming is expected to cause the glaciers at both poles to melt and make the volume of sea water increase, most likely some islands on earth are at risk of sinking, especially the Indonesian archipelago which is a young land in geological history. Not only that, other impacts will be felt on climate change, a matter of months, days, seasons. Nature which is the main benchmark for farmers, fishermen and various sectors of work related to climate and seasons will feel a prediction crisis, several regions in Indonesia experience crop failures due to the calculations they do based on seasonal calculations are no longer accurate, even though these calculations have been passed down from generation to generation. inherited. But climate change and global warming have messed up astronomy. Maybe this is also what makes the Mayan calendar (piktun) only predict until 2012.

Not only the estimated harvest season, natural imbalances also cause the spread of disease vectors from animals to humans. Until now there has been no single plausible theory that definitely and accurately explains where COVID-19 came from and how it will disappear. Research is still being done, all theories put forward by scientists can be true. But scientists who study the environment, viruses, pandemics, health have found this conundrum, which all starts with “environmental imbalance”. If we describe briefly, in the food chain there is one missing which then results in advantages and disadvantages between predators and prey. If the rice field snakes are hunted by farmers, the rats will live more, and then they will eat the rice too, eventually the farmers will fail to harvest. Likewise, the case of COVID-19, with the large number of killings of wildlife, has shifted the pattern of the food chain.

Covid 19 and the balance of nature

There are many theories that explain the origin of the pandemic that humans are experiencing now, but until now there is no definite news about where the origin and cause of the catastrophe exists. US intelligence agencies say they may never be able to identify the origins of Covid-19, but they have concluded the virus was not created as a biological weapon. Apart from the specifics of covid 19 which is a virus, whose existence can never be seen with the naked eye, a number of scientists believe that the covid 19 pandemic occurs due to natural imbalances. The COVID-19 pandemic which was determined by the World Health Organization (WHO) or world health agency on March 11, 2020, could also occur due to the interruption of the food cycle which resulted in the explosion of a component of life without a predator in the same period of time.

The SARS-VoV-2 virus is a disease that originates from animals and is transmitted to humans. It is possible that the disease originated in bats, then spread through other mammals.

Even though it is not made in a laboratory, it does not mean that humans have no role in the ongoing pandemic. A recent study by scientists from Australia and the US found that human actions on natural habitats, loss of biodiversity and destruction of ecosystems contributed to the spread of the virus.

The number of infectious diseases has more than tripled every decade since the 1980s. More than two-thirds of these diseases come from animals, and about 70% of that number comes from wild animals. Infectious diseases that we know, for example: Ebola, HIV, swine flu and bird flu, are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

COVID-19 is also spreading rapidly as the world’s population is becoming more and more closely connected. This situation that surprised many people, had actually been warned by scientists for a long time. Joachim Spangenberg, Vice President of the European Institute for Sustainability Research, said that by destroying ecosystems, humans create conditions that cause animal viruses to spread to humans. “We created this situation, not the animals,” said Spangenberg. In 2016 UNEP Frontier has been warned that at least every four months a new zoonotic disease will emerge. This is due to human activities as follows:

Deforestation and habitat destruction

because humans are increasingly opening up areas inhabited by wild animals to graze livestock and take natural resources, humans are also increasingly susceptible to pathogens that have never previously left the area, and leave the bodies of the animals they inhabit.

“We’re getting closer to wild animals,” said Yan Xiang, a virologist at the University of Texas Center for Health Sciences. “And that puts us in touch with those viruses.” While David Hayman, professor of infectious disease ecology at Massey University, New Zealand said, the risk is also increasing not only through humans entering natural habitats, but also through animals. human pet

In addition, the destruction of ecosystems also has an impact on which types of viruses thrive in the wild and how they spread.

David Hayman emphasized, in the last few centuries, tropical forests have been reduced by 50%. This has a very bad impact on the ecosystem. In a number of cases, scientists have succeeded in revealing, if animals at the top of the food chain went extinct, animals at the bottom, such as mice that carried more pathogens, took their place at the top of the food chain.

“Each species has a special role in the ecosystem. If one species takes the place of another, this can have a major impact in terms of disease risk. And often we can’t predict the risk,” explains Alica Latinne of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Evidence showing a link between the destruction of ecosystems and the increased risk of spreading new infections has led experts to emphasize the importance of the concept of “One Health”.

Wild animal trade

Markets selling wild animals and products from wild animals are another incubator for infectious diseases. Scientists consider it very likely that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease COVID-19 emerged in a wild animal market in Wuhan, China.

Spangenberg explains that placing sick and stressed animals in cramped cages is an “ideal way” to create new pathogens, and spread disease from one species to another. Therefore, many scientists have urged the holding of stricter regulations for the wild animal market.

That is also the call of Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Chief Executive of the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. He has called for a worldwide ban on wild animal markets. But Mrema also reveals that for millions of people, especially in poorer regions of the world, these markets are a source of income.

Indonesia’s position in the eyes of the world

Indonesia is a country with a very large tropical forest, in COP 26 it was stated that Indonesia is the last bastion of planet earth along with the Amazon and the Congo forests. save a lot of germplasm, Indonesia’s forest area totals 128 million ha. Indonesia is a country with the third largest tropical rainforest in the world. That means, a lot of germplasm stored in it. This will also be a big scourge if the vast forest cannot be maintained properly. The expansion of residential areas, planting of oil palm, clearing land and roads will destroy some of the existing germplasm. Currently, humans have lost 8% of animal species and another 22%. If Indonesia participates in efforts to reduce and destroy the environment intentionally or unintentionally, we can estimate what will happen in the future.

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