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Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's Ecosystems
By Charli Shield
After the novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, it didn't take long for conspiracy theorists to claim it was manufactured in a nearby lab.
Scientific consensus, on the other hand, is that the virus — SARS-CoV-2 — is a zoonotic disease that jumped from animal to human. It most likely originated in a bat, possibly before passing through another mammal.
While the virus was certainly not engineered in a laboratory, this doesn't mean we haven't played a role in the current pandemic. Human impingement on natural habitats, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are making virus spillover events much more likely, a major new study from scientists in Australia and the US has found.
The number of emerging infectious disease outbreaks has more than tripled every decade since the 1980s. More than two thirds of these diseases originate in animals, and about 70% of those come from wild animals. Many of the infectious diseases we're familiar with — Ebola, HIV, swine and avian flu — are zoonotic.
Aided by a hyper-connected global population, SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has also demonstrated how quickly modern outbreaks can become pandemics.
By disrupting ecosystems, we have created the conditions that allow animal viruses to cross over into human populations, says Joachim Spangenberg, ecologist and vice-president of the Sustainable Europe Research Institute.
"We are creating this situation, not the animals," Spangenberg told DW.
Deforestation, habitat encroachment
As people move further into the territories of wild animals to clear forests, raise livestock, hunt and extract resources, we are increasingly exposed to the pathogens that normally never leave these places and the bodies they inhabit.
"We're getting closer and closer to wild animals," says Yan Xiang, professor of virology at the University of Texas Health Science Center, "and that brings us into contact with these viruses."
"As you increase human population density and increase encroachment onto natural habitats, not just by people but by our domesticated animals, you're increasing the rolls on the die," David Hayman, professor of infectious disease ecology at Massey University in New Zealand, told DW.
But, as well as increasing the likelihood of transfer, ecosystem disruption also has an impact on how many viruses exist in the wild and how they behave.
In the last century, tropical forests, home to around two thirds of the world's living organisms, have been halved. This profound loss of habitat has ripple effects throughout the entire ecosystem, including on the "parts we tend to forget — infections," says Hayman.
In some cases, scientists have observed that when animals at the top of the food chain disappear, the animals at the bottom of the food chain, like rats and mice that carry more pathogens, tend to fill that space.
"It's not just about how many species we have in an ecosystem," says Alice Latinne at the Wildlife Conservation Society, "it's about which species."
"Each species plays a different role in the ecosystem and sometimes, if you just replace one species with another, this can have a huge impact in terms of disease risk. And sometimes we can't predict it," she told DW.
Habitat changes can also force animals — and their pathogens — to go elsewhere, including areas populated by people.
Latinne draws on the example of the emergence of Nipah virus in Malaysia in the late 1990s, where deforestation drove fruit bats from their forest habitat to mango trees on pig farms. Bats often carry pathogens that don't bother them, but in this case when the pigs came into contact with bat droppings and saliva, they became infected. The pigs then went on to infect farmers.
Evidence linking disruption of ecosystems to increased risk of novel infection transfer is why, Spangenberg says, experts talk about the importance of the "One Health" concept; the idea that the health of animals, the ecosystem and humans are all interlinked, and when one is out of balance, others follow suit.
So-called "wet markets" selling produce, meat and live animals provide another incubator for the emergence of infectious disease. Scientists believe there's a strong possibility SARS-CoV-2 emerged at a wet market in Wuhan, China.
Cramming stressed, sick animals into cages together is, in many ways, the "perfect setting" to incubate new pathogens, Spangenberg says, and "an excellent way to transfer diseases from one species to another." For that reason, many scientists, including Spangenberg, say the world needs, at the very least, to introduce strict regulations for live animal markets.
That's the message from Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the United Nations' biodiversity chief, who has called for a global ban on wildlife markets.
But as Mrema also pointed out, millions of people — particularly in low-income communities — rely on the food and income sources these markets provide.
That's part of what makes solutions to preventing disease outbreak complex, according to Hayman. Animal exploitation is one part of it, he says. But "poverty, access to jobs, how people are treated in remote areas, the way people engage with food" also contribute to conditions that lead to spillovers.
Even just on an economic level, Latinne believes, "we will be forced to change — because the cost of disease emergence and spillover from wildlife will be much higher than the economic benefit of our exploitation of the environment."
"We are part of nature — we're part of the ecosystem where our health is linked to the health of wildlife, the health of livestock and the health of the environment," Latinne says. "We have to find a better way to live together safely."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Are you noticing your shirts becoming too tight fitting to wear? Have you been regularly visiting a gym, yet it seems like your effort is not enough? It's okay to get disappointed, but not to lose hope.
By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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