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Conservation deconstructed

What does conservation mean? What does it mean to be conservation-minded, to have a conservation ethic, or to do conservation? Conservation, specifically with regards to the environment, is a word that has possibly become overused in the past years, and perhaps the meaning has become diluted. Traditionally conservation had to do with the preservation, protection, and restoration of the natural environment, ecosystems, and resources. More recently, conservation has begun to include the examination, documentation, research, treatment, improvement, and preventative care of the natural environment and ecosystems. Today, conservation is focused on the use of natural resources in a sustainable way to achieve their highest economic and social value and benefits. Unfortunately their inherent or natural value and benefits are often marginalized. Unlike conservation, preservation is all about the inherent or natural value of the environment, where people use natural resources for the enjoyment of its natural beauty and the inspiration they get from it (non-consumptive use). Ultimately, conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use.

At its heart, conservation is a human-centered concept as human behaviour, particularly destructive and unsustainable practices, is at the root of most, if not all, current conservation issues. It is important to make sure that conservation is more than just conversation. While raising awareness of the plight that our marine, coastal, and terrestrial ecosystems are in is of immense importance, does the knowledge (and hopefully passion) we are passing on inspire actionable and measureable change? Ultimately conservation should result in the betterment of the environment and ecosystems, or at least prevent further degradation. Conservation doesn’t necessarily mean big gestures, or revolutionary works (which are of course needed), but it is doing what you can, however small and insignificant it may seem in the face of the large environmental issues we face. Conservation is reducing, reusing, recycling, repairing, and repurposing. Conservation is reducing water usage. Conservation is beach clean-ups. Conservation is not just for scientists, but for everyone who, through a myriad of small tasks, can make a big measurable difference in our environment.

Written by: Minke Tolsma

For further reading:

  • Parsons, E.C.M., MacPherson, R. and Villagomez, A. 2017. Marine “conservation”: You keep using that word but I don’t think it means what you think it means. Frontiers in Marine Science 4: 299.

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