Why we need to act for biodiversity

Science states that the biological diversity of life is split into three sections of species, genetic and ecosystem diversity. From bacteria that are unseen by the human eye to the largest terrestrial land animal and plankton in the depth of our oceans, species surround us in groups of a few or vast numbers of organisms displaying unique characteristics. However, despite humanity’s advances in technology, we are yet to conclude exactly how many species inhabit the planet today. Scientists approximate that there is a recorded 8.7 billion but there are variances between 5.3 to even 1 trillion, either way, it’s a huge number.

Just this year, 5 new species have been discovered, such as DiCaprio’s snail-eating snake in Colombia and stream treefrogs in Ecuador differing in morphology enough to term it a new species. Charles Darwin himself considered species discovery as ‘defining the undefinable’ as they are constantly changing due to variances in reproductive pairings and environmental pressures.

Within each species and any organism across the world, there is a vast amount of genetic diversity granting huge differences and standout species characteristics. The genetic diversity of species can be displayed in the variances of bird song, to the colour and size of tomatoes or the length of a giraffe’s neck. However, the genetic variation of species can reduce due to different environmental pressures which in time can alter the genomes within one species which consequently creates a new one.

Biodiversity itself is constructed into a variety of different ecosystems all around the world ranging from grasslands, wetlands, tropical rainforests or desert land. Such diversity enables species to flourish within the ecosystems that they are adapted to live within. However, ecosystems certainly differ in the complexity of their species diversity. For example, tropical climates or coral reefs have a much greater species diversity compared to that of the Arctic tundra or Sahara desert due to harsher living conditions and slower reproductive rates.

Extinction is a greater threat to numerous species today. Such research stems from the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London who have collectively calculated over 69% of biodiversity have been lost since 1970. If we then take a look at regional differences, some stark numbers emerge. Regions in Latin America and the Caribbean have seen a 94% decrease in species diversity. Cycad trees, conifers, coral reefs, shark species, amphibians and mammals have collectively reduced the most with a 40-80% decrease.

Since the onset of the industrial revolution, land has increasingly been intensively farmed and managed, forests felled and our seas overwhelmed by fishing quotas and deep-sea trawling. We are damaging our planet beyond its limits and eradicating the great complexity of nature. With our ever-increasing human population, predicted to be about 9.7 billion by 2050, the pressures upon resource production are unsurprising. Coupled with changing and increased consumptive habits, our agricultural productions and ecosystems have been altered on a global scale. Scientists are now concluding that 75% of the land surface has been altered by human activities. Live coral reefs have halved and the amount of plastic residing in our oceans have increased tenfold.

As a result, we are now diminishing the Earth’s biocapacity, reducing its chances of natural regulation and regeneration.

Early this year, 200 countries signed an agreement to protect biodiversity by gathering together at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference summit, otherwise known as COP15. This summit ended somewhat amicably with a pledge to protect at least 30% of nature by 2030 in order to halt the major decreases in species diversity and gain time to make huge advancements in conservation projects. Keeping with the theme, £30 billion was also pledged to be donated by ‘rich countries’ but how this money was going to be utilised in a ‘nature-positive’ way was not defined.

Over 44% of global GDP – our resources, medicines, food and recreational activities are all dependent on a healthy functioning natural world.

The resources that nature provides for us are termed natural capital but we are heavily dependent on non-renewable forms of energy production. But by investing in nature-based solutions we can use natural resources and give back to nature by adopting renewable energy productions. A range of socio-economic issues can also be addressed when nature-based solutions are applied by protecting, educating and empowering communities to act in order to enhance their livelihoods and surrounding ecosystems.

A large-scale example of a nature-based solution lies in the world’s coral reef systems. Healthy reef systems are natural coastal protectors and dissipate wave energy. Low-lying communities are therefore protected during storms from large waves, flooding and coastal erosion. Our warming oceans are acidifying and bleaching coral reefs which is not only destroying these natural sea defences but also degrades the homes of lots of marine life all around the world. By investing in coral reef systems, the livelihoods of millions of people can be protected as well as the biodiversity in and around the reefs and they are much cheaper to invest in compared to man-made sea defences and infrastructure.

In comparison, smaller and localised solutions are on offer. Off the north coast of Wales, the UK’s largest seagrass restoration project is underway with more than 5 million seeds hoped to be planted and flourishing by 2026. Being one of the three marine flowering plants forming kush meadows underwater, Seagrass is not only home to numerous species of wildlife but is also a natural carbon sequester, recorded to absorb carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.

Today, 130 countries have included nature-based solutions in to their national climate plans from the Paris Agreement. However, there is no quick fix for the climate crisis nor our reliance on fossil fuels. We will continue to use them in order to act upon and develop nature-based solutions but we can faze them out, re-wild ecosystems and see a greater economic gain from investing in and working with nature.

Mattea Pauc
Mattea PaucAuthor
Mattea Pauc is founder of Re-Educating Earthlings, an environmental education platform to help young children reconnect with nature.