What does it mean for a species to become extinct? It means that those plants or animal have completely died out, and no longer exist on Earth. Science claims that species are going extinct every day, by the hundreds. In the Rainforest alone, it is estimated that there are about 50,000 species going extinct each year. Why should we care abut extinction?
How can we prevent it? If we can put a stop to the destruction of natural habitats, this will go a long ways towards avoiding species extinction. Habitats may be threatened in a number of ways: rainforests can be destroyed by clear cutting, which is the practice of cutting down all trees in a large area of forest; and coral reefs and polar ice caps are two habitats that are threatened by rising temperatures and other effects due to global warming.
What are engineers doing to save natural habitats and prevent extinction? As part of the design process, engineers listen to environmental scientists to gather information that will help them design products to fight extinction. For example, some scientific studies have shown that greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to global warming, which in turn could endanger some plants and animals. Using this scientific evidence, engineers can design products (like cars) that reduce harmful emissions as a way of reducing the risk of extinction. Engineers create both direct and indirect solutions to prevent extinction: materials engineers are developing long-term alternatives to wood; architectural engineers are making buildings more energy efficient; mechanical and chemical engineers are producing clean energy; and civil and other engineers are working to save coral reefs.
Techniques developed and intended to reduce strain on the biosphere in one area may have unintended detrimental effects on another area. One example of this is begins with the development of pesticides by agricultural and chemical engineers. By using pesticides, farmers were able to drastically reduce the loss of crops due to insect destruction, significantly improving crop yields and reducing the required size of farm land, limiting farm expansion into the wilderness. However, overuse of pesticides is attributed to colony collapse disorder (CCD) in bees, which are primarily responsible for pollinating many of our crops, which reduces crop yield. From this example, it is clear that there are competing factors in ecological conservation, which needs to be balanced to produce the best possible results.
All Disciplines of Engineers
Many types of engineers work on creating products that help save plants and animals. For example, material engineers can develop new building supplies that mimic wood in function (such as structural support), form (the way it looks) and cost. If engineers are successful, then the need for actual timber in the rainforest should diminish. This can reduce the harmful practice of clear cutting rainforest timber, which destroys precious habitat for many plants and animals. Some engineers are working on saving coral reefs and the diverse animal and plant life that depend on them. Coral reefs are destroyed in a number of other ways: pesticide and nutrient runoff encourages the growth of algae that smothers coral, which needs sunlight to survive; industrial toxins are dumped into the ocean and poison coral; and careless construction, logging and farming all lead to erosion which smothers and kills coral. Civil and agricultural engineers can play a role in the prevention of coral death by encouraging better farming practices which reduce pesticide runoff and control erosion, and environmental engineers can develop a more responsible way of handling industrial waste. Coral reefs are also threatened by an overpopulation of starfish, which feed on coral, and are overwhelming their own food source. Chemical engineers in Japan have isolated a chemical produced by sea urchins that attracts starfish. Using this chemical, the starfish is attracted away from the coral and relocated to other places in the ocean.
Engineers are indirectly helping to preserve habitat through combating global warming. The phenomenon of global warming may be alleviated as engineers develop new methods to help our society use less energy (gas and electrical) and use more clean energy (energy produced in a way that does not contribute to global warming, such as wind, solar, and biomass). Engineers do not necessarily have coral reef or the rainforest in mind when they are doing this work, but nonetheless these biodiverse habitats benefit from lack of human intervention, and the ensuing stability in their habitats.
Species extinction is happening at an alarming rate according to scientists or practical, ethical and aesthetic reasons, it is important that we try to prevent endangered plants, animals and instincts from going extinct. Engineers from a wide variety of disciplines are working on developing products that can help protect the habitats in which those endangered species live.