Preservation During Political Conflict

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Political conflict is not synonymous with ecological health.

As Somali pirates rain terror along Africa’s eastern seaboard, capturing trade ships and holding crews hostage for ransom, a remarkable development is taking place underwater: Tuna and marlin populations are surging. It turns out that the rogue seamen have scared away commercial fishing trawlers as well as tankers dumping toxic waste, both of which formerly devastated the coastal fisheries. The results are so profound, according to the University of California, Berkeley, alumni magazine California (Fall 2011), pirates are “claiming that they are an ad hoc ‘coast guard’ for Somalia’s offshore resources.”

Nature flourishing in a war zone is, while paradoxical, not unprecedented. Rainforests thrive under the armed watch of communist insurgents in the Philippines, and endangered white-shouldered ibis find refuge in Cambodia’s former killing fields, reports Audubon Magazine (July/August 2011). In simple terms, violence impedes the destructive business of civil society, bringing to a halt clear-cutting, mining, and hunting and vacating tourist resorts that degrade the environment. As a result, reports California, “Somali pirates have thus been able to do something that international maritime accords, rigorous fishing quotas, and a slew of environmental organizations have not: resuscitate major marine fisheries.”

Political conflict is not synonymous with ecological health, of course. In the Congo, rebel groups brazenly poach elephants, execute mountain gorillas, and have all but extinguished the white rhino. In South America, cocaine warlords are responsible for razing forests, soaking coca plantations in toxic herbicides, and dumping untreated processing fluids in waterways. As California concludes, the environmental benefits of war are almost always coincidental, and “it is naive to ascribe preservationist impulses to insurgents, the claims of Somali pirates notwithstanding.”

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