In December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed May 22nd as The International Day for Biological Diversity, with the goal of spreading global awareness of biodiversity issues that affect our planet.
The theme for this year’s Biodiversity Day is “Building a shared future for all life”.
“Fitting within the context of the ongoing United Nations Decade on Restoration, which highlights that biodiversity is the answer to several sustainable development challenges, the slogan conveys the message that biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better”
Conservation of the world’s environment is a necessity, many people across the globe regard the natural environment as sacred and enjoy the bliss of being outdoors. While others use it for recreation and creative inspiration. Populations across the globe depend on the natural environment for resources, a healthy economy and financial gain.
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the term used to encompass the variety and variability of life on earth, simply put- it is everything from entire living ecosystems to plants, animals, insects, aquatic animals and microorganisms. Biodiversity is the core feature of an ecosystem on our planet.
Humans have spent most of our history documenting life on earth and while trying to understand the different species and systems that surround us, we have collated a catalogue of around 1.6 million species but there may be as many as 7 or 8 million more than we know. Though we have a fairly good idea of the larger land and sea animals, there are doubtless many creatures we have yet to discover, from tiny organisms at the bottom of the ocean bed to slightly larger animals such as the Popa Langur; a tiny primate species that was only discovered recently in 2020.
When we think of protecting biodiversity, many people tend to imagine saving the most popular endangered species that you may see on tv adverts and charity leaflets such as polar bears and elephants. While these species are special, it is important to remember the smaller organisms that do much of the hard work when it comes to protecting our planet, such as the many varieties of bacteria and microorganisms that live and work in our soils and tummies.
Biodiverse microorganisms enrich the soil we use to grow our staple crops, providing life-giving nutritious food to 7 billion people. Pollinators such as bees, butterflies and even the not-so-friendly wasp help ensure the growth of fruit and nuts, and aquatic plants act as a source of nutrition to different fish species that as a result, have been able to multiply and populate our seas and oceans- becoming a primary source of protein to 1 billion people around the globe.
Diversity of animals, plants and microorganisms are not only essential to us as a source of sustenance but also vital to human health. The human body is host to many different species of bacteria and microbes that live in all areas of our bodies, including our guts, skin, mouth, and ears. These complex microbiomes are fundamental to maintaining good overall physical, mental health and wellbeing.
Much of the world’s medicine has originated from natural sources and different plants and fungi have been used to treat diseases for generations. For example, penicillin, a group of common anti-biotics which is derived from Fungi and the painkiller Aspirin, formulated with salicylic acid which is derived from willow bark. It is estimated that between 35,000 and 70,000 different plant species have been screened for potential uses in medicine, and scientists continue to use the earth’s plant biodiversity to search for new treatments and cures. According to scientists David J Newman and Gordon M Cragg (2012) up to 50% of approved drugs in the last few decades come directly or indirectly from natural products for treatment of cancer. These are just a few examples of how crucial the protection of biodiversity is for human health. Greater biodiversity in ecosystems such as forests and wetlands help ensure we have essential clean water as they naturally filter out pollutants, toxic metals, pesticides, sediment, and excess minerals that may affect water quality. They also help protect communities from threat of natural disasters, mangroves, and coral reefs for example; protect communities from tsunamis and hurricanes.
How does Human activity impact biodiversity?
To date, human activity has contributed the most to loss of biodiversity. Direct causes such as deforestation and the clearing of natural ecosystems for agricultural practices, drives an estimated 30% decline in biodiversity. As well as other harmful activities such as poaching and hunting endangered species, overuse of manmade water catchments like dams, pollution, and increased urbanisation into rural areas. Continuing exploitation of ecosystems through overconsumption, overharvesting and overproduction of resources is having a growing impact.
Every living organism in Earth’s ecosystems are fundamental to life on earth as we know it. Lack of wildlife protection and loss of biodiversity is devastating to life on Earth. As human activity continues to negatively impact wildlife and the environment, scientists fear that many species could be lost before we even discover them and ecosystems could suffer irreversible damage, therefore it is so important for world leaders, NGOs, and communities to join to protect the Earth’s biodiversity.
What can I do to help?
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help!
Support local groups and nature-protection associations
Switch to eco-friendly household products, choose eco-labelled
Invest in your garden/ allotment/ local outdoor spaces. If you can, make it wildlife-friendly, introduce shelter for local fauna-such as a bird house
Eat biodiverse, try to eat local and pesticide free produce
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Switch off appliances, walk often, cycle to work, share transport and reduce household food waste
Official guides provided by the UN, European Commission and Convention on Biological Diversity shed insight on the other ways you can make a difference and reduce loss of biodiversity. Any effort, no matter how small, can have a positive impact on our planet.