“We should not knowingly allow any species or race to go extinct. And let us go beyond mere salvage to begin the restoration of natural environments, in order to enlarge wild populations and stanch the hemorrhaging of biological wealth. There can be no purpose more enspiriting than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us.” — E.O. Wilson

What is Ecological Restoration?

Ecological restoration is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability. Frequently, the ecosystem that requires restoration has been degraded, damaged, transformed or entirely destroyed as the direct or indirect result of human activities.

The Society for Ecological Restoration International Primer on Ecological Restoration defines it as “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed”. An ecosystem has recovered – and is restored – when it contains sufficient biotic and abiotic resources to continue its development without further assistance or subsidy. It will sustain itself structurally and functionally; demonstrate resilience to normal ranges of environmental stress and disturbance; and interact with contiguous ecosystems in terms of biotic and abiotic flows.

“Ecosystem restoration activities are now common in many countries and include actions to restore almost all types of ecosystems, including wetlands, forests, grasslands, estuaries, coral reefs, and mangroves. Ecosystems with some features of the ones that were present before conversion can often be established and can provide some of the original ecosystem services (such as pollution filtration in wetlands or timber production from forests).” — Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Restoring the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, Korea

The story starts with a river in the middle of Seoul that had become little more than a sewer by the l970’s. Finally it was turned into a road, with a 6 lane highway above. In 2002 the mayor made a brave and visionary decision: he pledged to tear down the highway, restore the river and create a 5 mile long park along its banks. What made this idea even more audacious was that it meant relocating 160,000 cars a day off of a main arterial road. Opposition came from planners, traders and drivers. The surprise was that “the tearing down of the motorway has had both intended and unexpected effects. As soon as we destroyed the road, the cars just disappeared. A lot of people just gave up their cars. Others found a different way of driving.”


Bus services were improved and the effect on the environment was instantly noticeable. According to a professor involved from the start of the project: “We found that surface temperatures in summer along the restored river were an average 3.6C lower than 400 metres away. The river is now a natural air-conditioner, cooling the capital during its long hot summers. Average wind speeds in June this year were 50% higher than the same period last year.” Citizens flock to the water’s edge–there are waterfalls, play spaces, running tracks and sitting areas. Birds, fish, plants and a variety of wildlife have also returned and increased. Shanghai and Los Angeles are looking at the results because Cheonggyecheon Park has become a model for other large cities seeking to link regeneration and environmental progress.

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