What is Conservation? What's it got to do with me?

 
Author: Josh Robertson (16/10/16) 👨‍💻 

"We are woven into the fabric and complexity of the natural world, and as a very small part of it, are entirely dependent upon its resources."

The word conservation is thrown around a lot these days. But what exactly does it mean? What are conservationists trying to conserve?

 

Conservation literally means the act of preserving something, e.g. a football team trying to conserve a 1-0 lead, or Gollum wanting to conserve the one ring because he's a possessed little weirdo. The worlds' natural resources provide the basis for all of human life, it's our life support system, and so conserving them is probably pretty important. But will live in an disconnected world (particularly in the West), spending little time in nature and forgetting just how dependent we are upon our natural environment. We hear boring phrases like 'the environment' on the news, that really don't convey the majesty, complexity, or significance of the natural world.

 

📸 Photo by Josh Robertson
One of only 39 subpopulations of African wild dog, this pack was pictured in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Namibia. 

Conservation science is typically viewed as the protection of the natural world. Whilst this is true, the discipline goes far beyond that. We use science as a method of understanding the universe in which we live. In conservation we apply this method to provide solutions to the problems faced by species (lions and tigers and bears) and the places where these species live (habitats).

Although conservation initially focussed mainly on the biological sciences, trying to understand more about species and the environment to protect wildlife, somewhere along the line we realised that, with nearly 7.5 billion people in the world completely changing natural landscapes, it's probably a good idea to look at human dynamics and our interactions with the natural world too. This recognition of the importance of humans meant that conservation began to expand into other disciplines that study people and their behaviours, including: sociology, psychology, economics, politics, anthropology, demography, human geography, ethics, business and marketing... so yeah, pretty much everything. As conservation delved into these disciplines, it also adopted a key goal of improving human well-being, having previously focused solely on the welfare of non-human nature.

A Ju/’hoansi bushman and Master-tracker, Dam was helping maintain a waterhole in Khaudum National Park, Namibia. His significant knowledge of elephant behaviour left him completely unphased by the presence of a large breeding herd in the background.
📸  Josh Robertson

So to sum up, conservation science is a discipline that studies both people and the natural world and produces strategies to maximise benefits for both. Which is why conservation science has everything to do with you! We are woven into the fabric and complexity of the natural world, and as a very small part of it, are entirely dependent upon its resources. For example, did you know that ~70% of the oxygen we breath is produced by marine plants (phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton), like the Avatar looking creatures in the picture below? That means you have to thank these silent champs for over two thirds of the breaths you take whilst reading this article. 

📸   Joanne Paquette 

This is exactly what conservationists are trying to conserve, the marine and land plants that produce the air we breathe, the landscapes that create the water which we drink, organisms in the soil which allow us to grow crops and farm livestock, the bees that help produce our chocolatey treats and the coffee that wakes us up in the morning, and the countless list of species and places which leave people with a deep feeling of connection and awe. 

 

Aside from this utilitarian view of the world, many people believe nature should simply be conserved for its intrinsic value (that it has an inherent right to exist). A lovely thought. However, there are also people who have little interest in nature and don't think it has this intrinsic value. Whilst everyone is entitled to an opinion, these people should rather think of conservation as self-preservation, because we need nature a whole lot more than nature needs us.

📽️ Conservation International (2014)

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© 2016 by Josh Robertson & Stefan Hunt