The Southeast Asian region is home to some of the most biodiverse and unique ecosystems in the world. Its forests are vast, its rivers are plentiful, and its wildlife is spectacular. However, despite being a region that is relatively untouched by human activity and industrialization, it faces some of the most concerning environmental challenges today. These challenges are threatening to drive many species into extinction and cause irreparable damage to some of the last remaining habitats on earth. But what exactly are these challenges? How serious are they? And how can we begin to tackle them together? Let’s take a look at some of the most startling facts about environmental challenges in Southeast Asia.
Human Activity and Deforestation
Southeast Asia is known for its lush, green forests. However, human activity has already cleared huge tracts of these forests for agricultural use, logging, and mining, significantly reducing their overall biodiversity. Of the 15 million hectares of forests that were present in the region just a decade ago, an estimated 8 million hectares have since been lost. This is equivalent to the size of the State of New York from end to end. But the real concern is that the rate at which these forests are being cleared is increasing each year.
Loss of Biodiversity
Biodiversity refers to the variety of different species and ecosystems that reside in a certain region. Southeast Asia is home to some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. However, these ecosystems are under significant threat due to their low inherent biodiversity. Indeed, many of the plants and animals that inhabit the region have been introduced from other regions, while a large percentage of native species across Southeast Asia are also under threat. The region is home to one-third of the world’s species, but only 7% of global biodiversity. A number of factors are driving biodiversity loss, including deforestation, over-exploitation, and climate change.
Climate change is a global issue that has a significant and direct impact on Southeast Asia. As one of the most vulnerable regions in the world, it has seen some of the most startling effects of climate change. Indeed, the region has already been impacted by rising temperatures that have caused significant droughts and floods, as well as declining rainfall levels, reduced river flow and water volumes, and increased risk of both coastal and inland flooding. The region is also experiencing rising sea levels, changing ocean temperatures, and increasing acidity, all of which are expected to significantly impact marine ecosystems and fisheries. As the global climate agreement comes to a close, Southeast Asia has an even greater responsibility to lead the way in reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of global climate change.
Just like humans, coral reefs rely on carbon dioxide (CO2) and sunlight to produce food. However, ocean acidification is decreasing the amount of CO2 available to coral reefs, leading to a drop in the coral’s ability to produce food, and ultimately starvation. Coral reefs are critical ecosystems that support the livelihoods of millions of people across Southeast Asia. Indeed, the region is home to the world’s largest coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches more than 1,200 kilometers along the northeast coast of Australia. In recent years, ocean acidification has been increasing at an alarming rate due to the excessive levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is being absorbed by the oceans.
Southeast Asia is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, and also one of the most endangered. Human activity and deforestation, loss of biodiversity, climate change, and ocean acidification are threatening to destroy the very ecosystems and habitats that make this region so unique. The governments and communities of Southeast Asia must come together to protect and preserve these ecosystems. Only by working together can we hope to stand a chance against these environmental challenges in Southeast Asia.