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Environmental Threats to Southeast Asia

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Environmental Threats to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has been a location ripe for economic gain and has been looked upon by the western world with a certain gleam in their eye. Ever since the days of Marco Polo and Columbus there has been a desire to profit from the abundant and diverse resources of the Indies. Today, that desire has led this region of the world into a perilous downward spiral that could jeopardize the diversity and wealth of resources that the world so desires.

Southeast Asia, also known as the Indies, has traditionally consisted of the countries found on the Asian mainland east of India and south of China, known as Indochina, as well as the Malay Archipelago. To date these countries include; Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam on the mainland and Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, and Singapore as part of the archipelago (Southeast Asia, 2006).

Compared to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the India Ocean is far calmer. This helped to develop the commerce that would flourish between West Asia and Southeast Asia. As far back as two thousand years ago, the Romans were using Sumatran gold. In the 1500s Europe endeavored to lay claim to the vast amount of spices, gold, and exotic animals that populated Southeast Asia. Today, the world still covets much of what this region possesses, such as its oil, along with its manufacturing potential (Southeast Asia, 2006).

The animals of Southeast Asia are some of the most diverse on the planet. The Tropical forest environment, coupled with various mountainous regions allows for a vast amount of life to grow. On the islands of Borneo and Sumatra one can find the Orangutan. Throughout the mainland the Asian Elephant roams. There is also the Malayan Tapir, the Sumatran Rhino, and the Clouded Leopard. Water buffalo can be found across the entire region, and in far greater abundance than the rest of Southern Asia. Many of these animals can only be found on the islands or mainland forests. In the seas, the Southeast Asia coral reefs boast the highest levels of marine biodiversity on the planet. Here, countless species of mollusk, fish and coral abound (Southeast Asia).

Environmental Threats

The greatest threats to this region consist of deforestation and air and water pollution. Deforestation is the process of turning forest land non-forested lands usually for use in farming, mining or urban development. In the case of Southeast Asia, all three are huge factors in the severe deforestation of the region. To add to this, the clearing of much of this forested land for manufacturing facilities and urban areas to accommodate the ever increasing human population, has resulted in serious air pollution and water pollution that threatens the marine wildlife (Southeast Asia).

The once thick tropical forests of Southeast Asia are being hacked down to make way for farms and the ever increasing demand on food for the populations. In addition to this, much of the world is looking to these areas as a source of low-cost labor and has cleared more sections of forest for manufacturing. The results of this threaten the stability of the ecosystems and the survivability of the diverse native species. On the island of Sumatra, the clear cutting of forests has resulted in the near extinction of the Orangutan and the Sumatran Tiger. On the mainland, the increase in farmland has resulted in threatening the survival of the Asian Elephant.

But deforestation goes beyond simply causing the extinction of species. It threatens the climate of the region, the availability of water, soil erosion, and can cause landslides. As the forests are cleared away, more and more greenhouse gases are allowed to float in the atmosphere. This is because trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide and act as atmospheric scrubbers, cleaning away the polluted air. They also release oxygen into the atmosphere. The combination of these two events is what has chiefly contributed to our current climate conditions. Without this balance of gases the world would be a much different place and uninhabitable by life as we know it today.

Trees also act as sponges to soak up rainfall and distribute it through the soil. As rain falls it gets trapped at various levels of the forest canopy. Some gets caught on the leaves and is evaporated back into the atmosphere, the rest falls to the ground where it is soaked into the soil. The roots of the trees can then take excess water and prevent over saturation of the soil which could lead to erosion. The canopy shades the ground which prevents water from being evaporated too quickly. All of this creates a balance and cycle that ensures that the current ecosystem has enough water to survive.

Beyond their ability to soak up water, trees also help to prevent erosion in other ways. They act as natural wind breaks to prevent

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