Protect, Conserve, Prevent and Reverse: A Timely Refresher

When we talk about taking action against the environmental disasters caused by global warming and human activities, conversations mainly focus on either conservation, restoration, or protection. Sustainability, though, needs all three concepts to work hand in hand to be effective in any capacity. 

As a refresher, let’s look into what each of these concepts means and how, in the end, they can interact to make more robust and more adaptable climate change solutions.

Conservation and Preservation (i.e., Protect and Prevent)

Conservation is essential to ensure that we do not lose what is here with us. It focuses on protecting biodiversity, which is seriously threatened. The two main goals of conservationists are to safeguard an already diminishing population of species from further decline (i.e., protection) and to increase the number of an already declining population (i.e., preservation). 

It’s rather easy to confuse ‘preservation’ and ‘conservation,’ as there’s very little difference between the two when you read them. But as concepts and in practice, they’re distinctly different. Conservation safeguards the ecosystem by using natural resources sensibly. Preservation shields the environment from destructive human activity. If we take a forest as an example, conserving it would mean enforcing sustainable logging practices. Preservation would mean designating the entire forest, or parts of it, as no-human zones, like in a Nature Reserve. 

Put simply, conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use. Conservation is often done for one species at a time and tends to focus on the population levels of that species more than anything else. With preservation, human involvement is mostly always restricted to shielding the place from human development so that nature’s rhythms are free to take the wheel without human interference.

The Indigenous Land Back movement is a prime example of interconnected conservation that benefits not just the planet, but also the people that nurture and nourish it. The movement emphasizes rebuilding a relationship with the planet that is just, symbiotic, and sustainable.

Restoration (i.e., Reverse)

If conservation and preservation focus on preventing and protecting from ongoing degradation, then restoration seeks to reverse the damage caused. The goal of ecological restoration is to restore, start, or hasten the recovery of a disturbed ecosystem. The “disturbances” can be due to logging, intense grazing, hurricanes, deforestation, land abuse, or fires. The goal of restoration activities is to either replicate the ecosystem before it was disturbed or to create a new ecosystem where there wasn’t one. If we were to go back to the example of the forest we talked about earlier, restoring it would mean planting more trees of the same species to restore balance. 

How these concepts interact in the real world

Restoration and conservation offer complimentary advantages despite having different histories and methods. Depending on the project, one can happen before the other. For instance, in the case of wetlands, restoration may be necessary to cover the environmental costs associated with building water-diversion infrastructure. Then, what is left should be conserved.

That said, it’s easier said than done because quite a few challenges need to be overcome before these concepts can interact to have a positive effect. 

For example, as we saw previously, conservation and restoration often have different goals and processes. Where conservation might seek to establish protected areas with minimal human intervention, restoration usually requires human intervention in planting and sustaining species within a selected area.

Naturally, the success criteria also differ. In the case of wetlands, conservation efforts might be considered successful when the biodiversity value and population of the area increase. On the other hand, restoration of wetlands might be deemed successful if water quality is enhanced or erosion is prevented. While these success criteria are complementary and not in contrast, they need to be expressly stated and mapped out right at the start of the conservation-restoration project. 

The final word

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the current decade, which runs from 2021 to 2030, as the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. However, conservation, preservation, and protection continue to be just as important. After all, it is only when these concepts interact in the real world that we can create large-scale change on a global level. 

Restoration is at the heart of EcoMatcher’s business. While we started with a simple vision—to bring about better, more ecologically-friendly corporate gifting—our project grew to immense proportions. By focusing on restoration, we also pave the way for the conservation of forested areas across the world, not to mention provide livelihoods for local and indigenous communities.