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WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
When natural habitats are degraded by agriculture, mining, and the construction of infrastructure, soil erodes and washes into rivers and streams. The result is poor quality drinking water for humans, damaged habitat for many freshwater species, reduced energy generation efficiency in hydropower plants, and more. This is particularly problematic in areas with steep slopes or frequent and intense storms that are due to climate change. Healthy ecosystems play a key role in reducing or slowing the amount of erosion and chemicals that reach waterways.
Soils soak up water during heavy rainfall, storing it for slow release to streams and plants so that ecosystems can thrive, even during the drier parts of the year. But when water runs off too quickly or when soils become too compacted to absorb water, flooding usually occurs. This often happens when forests are cleared or degraded by illegal logging and other activities, when grasslands are overgrazed or converted to annual cropping, or when areas are converted to paved or otherwise impervious surfaces.
Mangrove forests, coastal vegetation, and coral reefs—all which line the coast—act as a physical barrier between land and shore, helping to protect people and property from cyclones and storm surges. They also provide food and habitat for a large variety of fish, shrimp, and other species that are an essential food source for people living along the coast. Protecting the natural resources along the coast is more important than ever, given that large increases in the frequency and magnitude of flooding are projected as sea levels rise and storms grow in intensity and frequency.
When trees are cut down, the deforested land becomes a source of harmful greenhouse gases instead of serving as an important “sink” that absorbs carbon dioxide. Emissions from deforestation account for approximately 15 percent of global carbon emissions. This is more than the total combined emissions from all cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships in the world. Carbon sinks are lost, too, when peatlands are drained and turned into palm oil plantations. In Indonesia, for example, peatlands store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world.
The same forests, grasslands, mountains, oceans, and rivers that are beneficial to people often are ideal habitat for a wide array of species. But much of their habitat is under threat. When new roads are built through natural areas, for example, poaching and vehicle collisions with wildlife can increase. Maneuvering and migrating through their environment becomes more challenging, too, making it harder for wildlife to find food, mate, and more. No species—including people or wildlife—benefit from the habitat under these conditions.