Free Research Paper on Ecosystems

Free research paper example on Ecosystems:

Human impacts have influenced the landscape and rate of change in Australian ecosystems since the indigenous peoples arrived. However the extent of influence exponentially increased with the arrival of the European colonizers, which have continued to damage as well as benefit ecosystems such as the wetland and sand dunes found at the Towra Point Nature Reserve, NSW. The human activities located nearby include industrial use, the Kingsford Smith Airport, oyster farming and visitors to the area, as well as historically from the indigenous peoples and the European arrivals. Combined, negative human impacts have caused environmental problems such as erosion, dune migration, loss of animal and plant habitats and pollution. As a result, the rate of change occurring in this area, whether it be natural or not, has been significantly affected.

An ecosystem is a biological community where abiotic and biotic organisms interact with each other and its environment. Its level of existence is maintained by the strength and complexity of its food chains, linkages to each other and the human environment, and the productiveness of the ecosystem. Concepts of vulnerability and resilience are also associated with the interrelatedness of the ecosystem, and the number of different species actively supporting its overall wellbeing. From this idea, ecosystems with greater number of interactions and linkages show greater resilience in times of challenge, whether it be from human impacts or facing stochastic elements. In this sense, wetlands and sand dunes are one of the most susceptible ecosystems because of their relative interdependence of other species in surviving.

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The wetland in Towra Point has been affected by human impacts since indigenous people used the area as part of their seasonal movement, evidenced by remaining middens and Aboriginal sacred sites. The location provided them with fresh water and ample timber from the mangrove plants for firewood and dwelling resources. Their presence did not degrade the wetland, as a vital element in the Aboriginal culture involved the concept of intergenerational equity and sustainable management of the environment, clearly seen by their traditional management approaches performed by moving onto the next site when the resources of the current site had been actively used. Therefore the natural rate of change was mostly allowed to occur, through the minimization of damaging human impacts. Nearby, the sand dune ecosystem was also used by indigenous peoples for campsites. However it has been suggested that this caused the migration of dunes and erosion, which acts to expose the dunes to the power of the wind. The rate of change affected by negative human impacts was more profoundly seen by the European colonisers’ activities at Towra Point. After Captain Cook’s arrival, the area was used for cattle and horses for grazing, the land was cleared to be divided into paddocks for cultivation and weeds such as the Buffalo Grass were introduced to remain a major problem to native plants today. The removal of vegetation caused erosion to occur at the nearby wetland and sand dune ecosystems, and the planting of foreign flora destroyed natives and began their establishment which consequently causes another problem in destabilizing the soil system when they are pulled out by conservationists. Accordingly, as the landscape of Towra Point was altered and changed by indigenous people and more so by the European settlers, the rate of change was also dramatically increased as negative impacts such as erosion, dune migration and loss of vegetation and habitats were caused by land clearing, deforestation and use of land for campsites.

In contemporary times, human activities take the form of commercial use in affecting ecosystems. At Towra Point these include nearby industry, the international airport and oyster farming. Land reclamation has occurred which has resulted in a significant proportion of wetland area being destroyed. The fact that only 25% of the original wetlands remain since 1788 is tantamount to the drastic rate of change which has occurred. This percentage is almost equal to the amount of mangroves cleared for agricultural use in Fiji. The practice of oyster farming commenced in the late 1800’s meant that further wetland areas had to be cleared. The poles which had to be built in creating the oyster farms also harmed the sea grasses present on the ocean bed. The habitats of the marine animals residing there such as the stalk-eyed crab and fish were consequently destroyed. This meant that these animals had to find other areas to live, which built more pressure on these areas, and therefore on the whole ecosystem.
Dredging of the water channel between Towra Point and the oil refinery and the airport has greatly affected the sand dunes. This human activity was done to accommodate the shipping channels for collection of the oil and for the recent construction of the third runway of the airport. Erosion has consequently damaged parts of Botany Bay and the sand dunes, and caused the water to turn brackish. Waves caused by the dredging and sandbars have increased wave action at the seabed around the wetland, disrupting the ecosystem functioning of the sea grasses and marine life, and the migratory wading birds. These disturbances collectively amplify the extent and rate of change of Towra Point. Pollution from waste output from the Kingsford Smith Airport, chemicals and oil from the refinery and the docking ships add to change the water’s pH level, which again exemplify the problems faced by these ecosystems, therefore increasing their vulnerability.

Visitors to Towra Point have played a major part in affecting the nature and rate of change in the wetland and sand dunes ecosystems. This has been no exception to Towra Point, where a large golf course is situated nearby. As the number of visitors grew steadily, fences, broadwalks, carparks and pavements had to be provided by the council. The fences were built past the berm to the back of the foredunes for protection of these dunes and the vegetation by the visitors. The boardwalks and pavements also created a level of erosion in the process, but simultaneously restricted further degradation of the sand dune ecosystem by the visitors. The carparks were unfortunately built on the foredune, whose presence hugely impacted on the ecosystem functioning in stabilizing the entire ecosystem. However overall these schemes his helped preserve the existence of these natural features from the constant trampling, which was a positive human impact. Others include the establishment of Towra Point as a Natural Reserve and a RAMSAR site, which guaranteed a level of conservation by authorities. Community groups such as AUSECO have educated students and the general society in the historical degradation of ecosystems, and have stressed the importance of protecting them from further deprivation. Campaigns have also helped create and generate public awareness of these problems, which can support and maintain political pressure on authorities to utilize these areas of natural and heritage importance in a sustainable manner. Accordingly, the rate of change may in fact, have been slowed down or limited by these initiatives.

Historically, the area of Towra Point has been a site which has been impacted by various human impacts, from the indigenous people prior to 1788, to the Europeans to modern day management. The activities such as land development, industry and a tourist location have generally served to influence the wetland and sand dune ecosystems of Towra Point in a negative way, by causing erosion, dune migration and loss of habitats and vegetation. As the number and extent of disruptions continue to occur, their vulnerability increases and their ability to respond to these changes are weakened. But as traditional approaches to management have seen to successfully sustain the wellbeing and productiveness of these environments, the contemporary techniques must continually be reevaluated in conjunction with public education in order to carefully administrate the rate of change occurring in these ecosystems.

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