Prioritizing and making decisions about use and care for natural resources can be accomplished through a hierarchical approach called Respect Restore Replace developed by Heather Spence to address resource allocation in support of coastal sustainability.
In the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle,” the order is not arbitrary. The first step is Reducing – which saves energy, money, and resources. The second step is reusing – which lessens the need to take new resources. The third step is recycling – which takes energy, turning something into something else, but can be a good option, again, to lessen the need to take new resources. A logical progression, yet it is usually recycling that gets the most attention.
In the case of ecosystems and natural habitats, there is a similar progression – “Respect, Restore, Replace.” Respecting is the utmost priority and the best option. Second best is restoring, third, replacing. We know so very little about the functioning of the environment, do we really think that we will be able to “replace” it? An artificial reef is NOT the same as a natural reef. An artificial wetland is NOT the same as a natural wetland. One of the biggest differences is that replacing the natural habitat, and to a smaller extent restoring as well, requires constant maintenance and human effort to keep it going. Even then, it may not sufficiently fulfill the natural ecosystem’s role to prevent complete instability of the area.
Where are you putting your priorities?