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Ecological system (or ecosystem) is a community of biotic and abiotic factors interacting with each other. For instance, the living organisms (e.g. plants, animals, etc.) share the benefits of a particular space and environment (e.g. air, food, water, and soil).
They are the foundation of ‘Biosphere’ and maintain the natural balance of the earth. Each organism in an ecosystem has its role and purpose. Disturbing ecological balance can be catastrophic for all living things depending on it. Qualities of a sustainable ecosystem include biodiversity, stability, and good health. When an ecosystem is sustainable, it has the capacity to reproduce and support itself.
On the other hand, ecosystem degradation is a global environmental problem that decreases the capacity of species to survive. This process can be natural or man-made and is usually caused by pollution, climate change, land clearing, resource exploitation, and population decline. The continuous deterioration of ecosystems will result in increased flooding, the rise of sea levels, disruption of the food chain, water shortage, food shortage, loss of biodiversity, etc.
Why does it matter? Why do we need to be alarmed? 60% of the Earth’s ecosystem has been degraded in the past 60 years. This year alone, humans have extracted approximately 23 billion tons of resources from the Earth. This continuous practice makes it hard for our natural ecosystem to cope and adjust and soon, despite our best efforts, it will be too late for them to recover. By 2050, it is expected that 95% of Earth’s land will be degraded. Unsustainable agricultural practices have already eroded 24 billion tons of soil resulting in losses of ecosystem functions (e.g., nutrient cycling and climate regulation). These functions help keep life on Earth sustainable. This crisis calls for urgent action.
In September 2020, a UN summit participated by political leaders representing 93 countries have committed to the Pledge for Nature: United to Reverse Biodiversity Loss by 2030 for Sustainable Development. The pledge aims to put wildlife and the climate at the core of economic recovery plans, post-pandemic and promises to address the climate crisis, deforestation, pollution, and ecosystem degradation.
Furthermore, the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration began in 2021, which will end in 2030, the deadline for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the timeline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change. This is the United Nations General Assembly’s response to a proposal for action by over 70 countries from all regions. Under the leadership of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the goal is to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean in order to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction.
You may still ask, “what is ecological restoration and why is it important?” UNEP defined ecological restoration as “a process of reversing the degradation of ecosystems, such as landscapes, lakes, and oceans to regain their ecological functionality; in other words, to improve the productivity and capacity of ecosystems to meet the needs of society. This can be done by allowing the natural regeneration of overexploited ecosystems or by planting trees and other plants.” Its main objective is to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, including the creation of social, economic, and environmental benefits, leading to healthy and connected ecosystems, which contribute to the enhancement of food and water security, mitigation and adaptation of climate change, and improvement of people’s livelihood.
Speaking of livelihood, did you know that the ecological restoration industry is worth $25 billion and generates 220,000 jobs? These figures came from a study entitled “Estimating the Size and Impact of the Ecological Restoration Economy” in 2015.
There has been a public debate regarding the economic impacts of environmental regulations requiring environmental restoration. Critics of the regulation see it as a “job killer”, but it turns out that the “restoration industry” provides more jobs than mining, logging, or steel production (ranking a little behind the oil and gas sectors).
Amanda Wrona Meadows, the Human Resources Manager CPO (former Marine Scientist and Knowledge and Learning Lead) at The Nature Conservancy, mentioned that restoration of natural infrastructure is a win-win solution, creating jobs and long-term benefits even after the job is done.”
Dr. Todd BenDor, Director of the Odum Institute and a Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Community Design in the Department of City and Regional Planning and the UNC Institute for the Environment, said “There are downsides to environmental regulations, but there may be upsides as well. And one of the upsides may be a larger and stronger ecological restoration industry which has a major economic spillover effect.”
Dr. BenDor also noticed significant momentum for ecological restoration in certain US states such as Oregon, Louisiana, and North Carolina. For example, the latter proposed tax incentives to encourage watershed restoration. A panel of researchers, including Dr. BenDor, refer to such activity as a “restoration economy” or “any combination of activities intended to result in ecological uplift, improve ecosystem health, and result in a functioning ecosystem that provides a suite of ecosystem services.”
As mentioned earlier, the restoration economy is a multi-billionaire industry in the making. A report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Nature Conservancy (TNC) stated that startups in this industry are seeing exceptional growth (ten times yearly), as the global restoration efforts accelerate. Notable startups worldwide (e.g., BioCarbon Engineering, Land Life Company, Brinkman and Associates, Ecosia, F3 Life, TerViva, among others) are using technology and new economic models to improve their profit margins. Needless to say, the restoration economy indeed provides jobs and boosts economies!
So, if you’re interested in repairing the ecological integrity of degraded forests, wetlands, rangelands, mine-impacted sites, and other critical habitats, you should consider career opportunities in ecological restoration.
To give you a head start, you can check out the sample job titles from Trent University. Entry-level job positions include:
- Landscape Restoration Technician
- Shoreline Naturalization or Restoration Technician
- Watershed Planning Technician
- Wetland Habitat Technician, Habitat Restoration Technician
Positions requiring more experience include:
- Project Manager, Field, and Stream Rescue Team
- Watershed Restorationist
- Stewardship Assistant
- Remediation Specialist
- Biodiversity Conservation Biologist
The university also enumerated some of the skills you need to develop to thrive in this industry:
- Conducting field studies
- Analyzing data, performing statistical analyses, interpreting and presenting results
- Retrieving, classifying, manipulating, and displaying data
- Understanding and completing population, economic and statistical analysis
- Utilizing spreadsheet, statistical, computer and database software
- Report writing and record-keeping
- Lab skills – chemical and physical laboratory settings
- Awareness of safety procedures, handling of chemicals, and basic experimental methodology
- Effectively dealing with companies, government, and communities to study and solve environmental problems
- Identifying species
- Using collected data to analyze and understand situations
- Using sampling devices and chemical analysis instruments
- Oral presentation skills
- Project design and management
- Policy and institutional analysis
- Using GIS, creating maps/graphs/charts
Another thing you should remember is that ecological restoration jobs provide an opportunity to connect the research community and the business sector to improve ecosystem health. A career in this industry offers a special opportunity to bring various stakeholders together in achieving a common goal. It may seem challenging at first, but that’s what makes this job exciting, stimulating, fulfilling, and worthwhile.