Text by Avishek Sarkar
Photo: Udayan Borthakur
The environment is a self-sustaining system, where all the diverse factors work together in collaboration to maintain the balance. There are various ways in which it incurs changes within itself, from interactions of different biotic and abiotic factors to anthropogenic disturbances. But this system is highly sustainable in resisting minor changes within itself as well as resilient to the major changes. This resistant and resilient quality can be seen in action during natural calamities, like flood, cyclone, forest fire etc. The environment, when left by itself, thus has the capability to return to a balanced state. The concept of Ecological restoration is borrowed from this resilient feature of nature, just like the other so called novel approaches (aeroplane, hydraulic pressure etc.). The only downside to this quality of nature to restore itself is that this whole process is very slow, when in comparison to the rate at which changes are incurred by it, making it important for human intervention to help accelerate the restoration process.
1st March 2019, a landmark in the field of Ecosystem restoration, when the UN General Assembly declared year 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), although, was constituted in year 1988, bringing together academics, researchers, practitioners, artists, economists, advocates, legislators, regulators and others supporting the concept of restoration. Ecological restoration was defined by them as ‘an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability’.
Area degraded by industrial waste
Photo : Avishek Sarkar
Before the inception of SER, restoration activities were carried out across the globe. Some of the common methods employed for restoration were re-vegetation and phytoremediation. But such restoration activities lacked proper planning and management, with the lack of taking into account the role of stakeholders, local and global likewise. The SER served as a platform, bringing restoration activists together, helping them share their success as well as failure stories. Another path breaking restoration approach used in modern research was the use of site-specific restoration approach for implementing higher efficiency, building on the science that the biogeography and social system of each area in need of interventions can be different. Ecosystem restoration is a holistic approach, and it is important to understand that the human being is also a part of this ecosystem. The science of ecosystem restoration requires a multi-dimensional approach, to be executed in meticulously planned steps.
The initiation of any restoration project must start with gathering information about the degraded site, the reason and extent of degradation as well as the biota around the site. This information serves as the base data for planning a restoration approach. The next step must include identifying and informing the stakeholders and local people on the layout of restoration approach. Traditional knowledge from the local people might serve as an important tool in management and planning. Keeping in mind the extent and kind of degradation, proper amelioration of the site must be done followed by planting the selected species (preferably native flora and fauna). Monitoring the restoration process is the most important (and unfortunately neglected) part of the whole approach. Success or failure of any restoration process can only be tracked by monitoring biotic and abiotic conditions of the site in regular intervals and can serve as a tool for restoration to be carried out at a site with similar edaphic conditions and causes of degradation.
“Green is not always good”- A degraded ecosystem infested with invasive flora
Photo : Avishek Sarkar
Even though the whole approach is pretty straight forward, identifying and choosing the best amelioration technique for improvement of soil and water quality and the best flora and fauna for re-introduction needs specialized expertise. There should be proper inventorization of the various restoration practices implemented till date, with every bit of important information for each step of the process. Restoration ecology as a science must be popularized, since degraded areas are increasing with each passing day. Across the country, there is just one college that offers a course in Ecological Restoration, Dimoria College in Khetri, Assam, the course being affiliated to Dibrugarh University. It is a full-time course with an elaborate coursework. But the university however, neglects to recognize the practical implications of this course, which has been operating with a lack of manpower and infrastructure. It is high time that we consider the importance of such a course and use the graduates for undertaking restoration projects across the country. With the recognition from United Nations Environment Programme on the importance of Ecosystem Restoration, steps need to be taken from the concerned stakeholders to strengthen the already existing Department and if possible, introduce such courses in other institutions as well.
In a day and age when the ecosystem and ecosystem services pertaining to them is on a steep decline, the need to expand the science of ecosystem restoration should be given high priority. Ecosystem restoration is a multi-disciplinary approach and thus is not restricted to specialization in a particular subject. Subjects like Soil science, forestry, ecology, hydrology, economics, social work and geography to name a few have a decisive role in preparing a feasible restoration framework. Ecosystem restoration, as an umbrella, caters to a diverse range of environmental issues. It is thus important to teach minds to employ holistic approach towards ecological restoration, owing to which we can support and accelerate the restoration process, and improve the ecosystem health.
About the Author:
Avishek Sarkar, Alumnus of Eco-Restoration Department (Affiliated to Dibrugarh University) Dimoria College, Khetri, Assam. Currently working with Aaranyak, he specializes in Wildlife Ecology and Remote Sensing-GIS.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org