Saving wildlife and ecosystems benefits Florida residents and the entire planet

It’s time to give up saving the planet. Nature is crippled, so it doesn’t care about the environment. In the new year, focus on taking care of the clean air and water behind you and find other things to focus on.

or not. There may be reasons to believe in nature’s nurturing. Recently, leaders from more than 190 countries gathered in Montreal to protect biodiversity – the diversity of life on the planet, from individual species to entire ecosystems.

In the final hours of the two-week conference, they agreed to protect 30% of the planet’s land and water by 2030. While the so-called 30×30 plan is not legally binding and the United States is not part of this, nor many other international environmental treaties, it is an important step in right direction.

Global biodiversity is under massive threat as our impact on the planet increases. Our love of cheap burgers means we keep cutting down forests to raise more cows.

Unsustainable fishing and pollution threaten our oceans. According to the World Economic Forum, for every pound of tuna we remove from the ocean, we replace it with two pounds of plastic. Human-driven climate change has intensified droughts and floods and warmed ocean waters, making it difficult for plants, animals and ecosystems to survive.

While we thought conservation of nature was saving polar bears and pandas, we came to understand that what is good for wildlife is good for people. Mangrove conservation preserves habitat for fish and manatees, but also provides a buffer from storms and a functional driver for our society.

Only 17% of the land and 8% of the ocean is under some form of protection, so the 30×30 goal is ambitious, but not impossible.

If you’re a newcomer to Florida, it may be difficult to understand you, but alligators were nearly extinct just a few decades ago. Because of the unregulated hunting and trade in crocodile skins, it was declared an endangered species in the 1960s.

Through policy and enforcement, the alligator population recovered enough that they were removed from endangered species status in the late 1980s. It was a similar story with Florida birds that were nearly exterminated more than 100 years ago as their plumes sought to adorn their elegant hats.

Conquest of the seas

The policies ultimately used to protect these birds served as a catalyst for the Florida conservation movement. There was a time when Floridians didn’t know a future with Everglades National Park, Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, or Lovers Key State Park. Now it is impossible to imagine a future without them.

These success stories show that when faced with the harsh reality of our behavior, we can choose to do better. This moment is different because the threats are bigger and require a bigger and faster response. It won’t be enough to simply remove hunting pressure from some species when we’re bootstrapping entire ecosystems.

Certainly, some will argue that protecting humans must come before the needs of wetlands, wild grasses, and coral reefs. But nature is our best insurance for the future. Biodiversity provides air, food, water, medicines, jobs, recreation and much more. It makes us all safer in the face of climate change.

A new year brings possibility and hope. decisions to do better. We can and must do more to protect all living things on this planet and ultimately ourselves.

Jennifer Jones, PhD, is the director of the Center for Environment and Society, part of the School of Water at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“Sea Gas” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focused on the threats posed by a warming climate.

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