University Essay Competition Success

Read the prize winning Ecology Essay written by MTS Sixth Former

Huge congratulations to Sohan Desai who won an Ecology essay competition run by the University of Exeter, winning a £100 voucher for his efforts. Please see his submission below.

Discuss how trends in eating habits in humans have affected the environment. Over time, eating habits have caused resource depletion, climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, and introduction of invasive species. These factors affect biodiversity and pose a threat to our environment. But how do our eating habits contribute to these factors?

We must first analyse the ‘journey’ our food takes. We can break this ‘journey’ down into two stages: how we are producing food and how we are transporting it. Then, we can examine the effects these stages have on biodiversity and our surroundings and investigate why our eating habits are having this effect.

Why has food production caused damage to the environment? Our population is constantly growing, which means that the demand for food and therefore production has increased. This has resulted in increased fertiliser use, meat production, and the expansion of farmland.

When growing crops, farmers use fertilisers which are often nitrogen based which cause habitat loss and climate change. Gradually, we have become dependent on these fertilisers. In 1965, 18.66 tonnes of nitrogen-based fertilisers were used whereas, in 2021, 109.17

tonnes of nitrogen-based fertilisers were used. Nitrogen fertilisers can cause multiple problems. In excess, they can cause eutrophication to occur in nearby rivers and lakes. The nitrogen causes an algal bloom which means no sunlight can reach the bottom of the lake so no plants at the bottom of the lake can photosynthesise. As a result, there is no oxygen in the lake, so the fish die. The biodiversity in the lake is reduced as the nitrogen fertiliser has caused the habitat to be destroyed. Additionally, these fertilisers can produce nitrous dioxide ( a greenhouse gas). If there is too much nitrous dioxide in the atmosphere, it increases the effect of climate change which increases global warming. This causes sea levels to rise due to melting ice caps, further increasing the risk of flooding and habitat destruction.

Humans’ high consumption of fish and meat has led to overexploitation of resources. It is thought that 23% of meat produced is wasted. Furthermore, exploitation has resulted in species becoming endangered due to human activity. For example, since 1970, the population of cod in the North Sea has been on the decline. Despite an upward surge in recent years, in 2019, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advised a 63% reduction in the available catch. Cod plays a vital part in the ecosystem in the North Sea. By limiting their numbers, the food chain is disrupted which means smaller creatures eaten by cod such as squid have more competition within and outside of their species. This causes them to become endangered. However, it is believed trawling may also have a role in the low numbers of cod. Nets capture the larger matured fish leaving behind the smaller fish which cannot reproduce. This results in the number of fish being taken relative to the number of fish produced being uneven.

Crop production requires space. Therefore, farmers have resorted to cutting down trees. Agriculture alone is thought to be responsible for 90% of deforestation. Deforestation disrupts the water cycle. Since there are fewer trees, less transpiration occurs which means that there is less water in the atmosphere. This means that there are drier conditions and less precipitation, which results in a higher risk of droughts. Therefore, it is harder for crops to grow as there is less water for photosynthesis which causes food chains to be disrupted.

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