Deep in the Jungle
Rainforests in Southeast Asia are among the oldest on our planet. While they only make up 15% of the world’s tropical forests, the biological richness and diversity is incomparable to Amazonian and African rainforests. On the island of Borneo (shared by Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei) alone, there are over 15,000 plant species, as well as native species of mammals such as elephants, tigers, and orangutans.
Orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park on Island of Borneo
Photo courtesy of Dimitry B via Unsplash
Although the beauty of the rainforests in Southeast Asia continuously puts us in awe, an unfortunate future awaits the region. High rates of deforestation, losses of habitat, and losses of biodiversity threaten the land and the life that currently exist. It is predicted that most of the region’s primary rainforests will be gone in the next 10 years, and 40% of its biodiversity will vanish by 2100.
The production of palm oil, a popular type of vegetable oil worldwide, is actually major source of deforestation in Southeast Asia. Palm oil is used in many products, ranging from food to makeup, and even transportation fuel. Indonesia and Malaysia produce 90% of the world's palm oil, and over the last few decades, 39% of the diverse forests on Borneo have been destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations.
Deforestation forces many species out of their natural habitats, and often causes air, soil, and water pollution. Learn more about palm oil here.
Photo Courtesy of Louie Martinez via Unsplash
In the Philippines the forests are rapidly diminishing, causing harmful consequences for the water and soil, and in turn food production.
From the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism:
"Forests made up 27.5 million hectares or 92% of the country’s total land area in the 16th century, when Spanish colonizers arrived. Forest cover dropped to 15.8 million hectares during the last years of the American occupation and to 10.6 million hectares just before the declaration of Martial Law.
It further shrank to 6.4 million hectares just after the 1986 People Power Revolution. Since then the country’s forest cover hovered at just under 7 million hectares on average."
How can we help?
Before our rainforests cease to exist, something must be done. The best time to make preventive measures was a several years ago, but the second best time is NOW.
As individuals, there are a few things we can do to help prevent the destruction of Southeast Asian rainforests and preserve biodiversity:
Educate yourself. Read infographics/articles/blogs and watch documentaries to learn about rainforest losses across Southeast Asia, the causes of the destruction, and the social and environmental impacts.
YES to sustainable products, NO to forest products. Buying products such as coffee, cereal, and chocolate increases the demand, which causes companies to harvest more (and exploit more) from the rainforests. Being a conscious consumer (buying products that are ethically and sustainably produced) or even avoiding these products could potentially decrease deforestation activities. On the other hand, patronizing eco-friendly products like bamboo, sugarcane, or paper straws with recycled paper is not only helpful to the environment and rainforests, but also saves more in the long run. Of course, putting the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) into practice also helps.
Raise awareness. Share what you learn with your friends, family, coworkers, etc. When more people know about the devastating situation facing the Southeast Asian rainforests and are inspired to do something about it, there will be more collective impact. Fortunately, social media is a powerful tool that can be utilized to unite the cause.
Support organizations dedicated to saving Southeast Asian rainforests. If you are financially able, consider donating to organizations that are on the frontlines of the fight against climate change and anthropogenic causes of the destruction of rainforests.
The rainforests of Southeast Asia are truly unique and breathtaking, and we cannot imagine a world without them. Our time is running out, and the most we have starts now.