Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Karsting a spell

Where I work, colleagues from the organizations that share our building give talks on a wide range of interesting conservation topics. A couple of months back I learned about the systems that are used by wildlife rangers to monitor their patrols and increase effectiveness, and this week I learned about how tiny snails and unique lizards are at extreme risk of extinction thanks to cement.
Cement is made from limestone, and limestone occurs naturally both below and above ground. The limestone hills that are the perfect mineral combination for cement – which is demand more now than ever before as housing and other human needs continue to grow – are also amazing habitats for extraordinary specialized species.
The speaker, Tony, told us of his work (which goes back to 1995) in looking at the biodiversity of these limestone hills. What looks like a ‘lump in the landscape’ to us, whether in Malaysia, Myanmar or Merseyside, probably has very distinct and often endemic (not found elsewhere) species.  OK, maybe not so much Merseyside (but check out Avon Gorge!), because in the UK we’ve more or less mined out every possible bit of limestone we can without crumbling into the sea, but in other countries, that have been slower to ‘develop’ their infrastructure, then the demand for limestone is encroaching some of the most amazing landscapes in the world.
Biodiversity examinations of these rocky outcrops, some of which are huge and cover many hectares, whilst some may be small enough to walk around in an hour or so.  The fascinating thing about the larger ones is not only are there amazing species living on the rocks (fauna and flora), the forest and other habitats on the limestone surface, but also the internal world – the caves.  From snails and bats to shrimp, spiders and crabs, many of the creatures that live in the limestone caves are found nowhere else in the world except in their little ‘bioverse’.
And our need for cement is wiping them out. Knowingly.  Some cement companies will do a biodiversity evaluation, and maybe leave a bit of the rock for the wildlife, but others are knowingly making species extinct. Admittedly it may only be a snail, but it will be made extinct nonetheless. And I can’t help feeling that without knowing everything there is to know about a species or habitat before we wipe it out is quite important (see ‘an overheard conversation’ – there are unknown herbs and plants on these rocks that could have tremendous benefit to humanity, but we’ll never know).
We are losing our precious species on this earth at an unsustainable rate. In the ‘Bank of Planet Earth’ humanity is seriously overdrawn, and unless we curb our consumption (or reduce our population dramatically), the bank is going to crash – and there’s no other ‘bank of…’ to bail us out. 

Photo: Limestone Karst hill in China from www.archesuk.com/

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