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Intro | Forest Preserve |  City Park | Transport | Marine Preserve |  Marine Park
In Tune With Nature

Tony Yu.
The fishermen of Guilin, China, have long made a living from nature.

Glimmers of hope shine through the gloom of environmental neglect

Humans have long made their imprint on Earth. China's ancient irrigation works, for instance, and the rice terraces of the Igorot in the Philippines are evidence. But it has only been in the past century that human activity has threatened to extinguish the ecosystems that sustain us.

Consider the sweep of China. Its billion or so people now live better than ever before. This is highly lopsided progress, however. A recent official survey of more than 700 mainland rivers found that close to half were significantly polluted, with one in 10 considered undrinkable. The culprit: industrial waste. Now, toxins such as DDT are being detected in fish and other marine life in the South China Sea.

Across Asia, deforestation has wiped out some 95% of its frontier forests. In the two decades up to 1980, a third of the region's tropical forests fell to unbridled exploitation. News crews recorded more vivid examples in 1997-98, when more than 5 million hectares of Indonesian forest were set alight, mainly by plantation interests. TV pictures are showing a repeat this year.

Environmental stewardship never had much priority in the region. Yet it is not all gloom. There is incremental realization that ecosystems perform an essential service, for example, in regulating the climate. Scientists now have a better understanding of how forests play a long-term role in locking up greenhouse gases, recycling nutrients and maintaining watersheds.

And, as the following pages show, green groups and enlightened officials can achieve impressive reversals. Southeast Asia's coral reefs, the most species-rich in the world, are also most at risk from overexploitation and habitat damage. But at the Tubbataha reefs in the Philippines, consistent conservation has brought back not just fragile coral but also more fish.

Regulatory authorities, too, are beginning to recognize the need to preserve biodiversity, not least because little-known plant and animal life may prove very useful in future. A role model: Kinabalu Park in Malaysia, which is working with the local people to preserve plant species. Here's to the next Asian miracle: Living in harmony with nature.

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