Biological Diversity is Fundamental to Human Health

By Samira Sadeque  (IPS)   

This photo shows the Jamaican Yellow-Billed Amazon Parrot, which are a protected and endangered species, and have been victim to smugglers in Jamaica. “The present COVID-19 crisis has provided us with a reset button – as well as confirming what we already know, that biodiversity is fundamental to human health – and has given new urgency to the need to protect it,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Credit: Ajani Francis/IPS

Today, May 22, marks the International Day of Biological Diversity. Experts say that conservation efforts have actually strengthened under the COVID-19 pandemic.

HAVANA TIMES – This year’s International Day of Biological Diversity falls amid the coronavirus pandemic and the slow easing, in some nations, of a global lockdown. While the lockdown has forced most people to stay at home, there have been reports of more wildlife being spotted – even in once-busy city centers.

This change is fitting for this year’s theme: “Our solutions are in nature.” Experts say that this is an opportunity for humans to see the footprint they are leaving behind on earth, and time to reflect on how to work towards a better future for the sustainability of the environment and for wildlife in the future.

“We know that humanity stands at a crossroad with regard to the legacy we wish to leave to future generations,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, told IPS. “As noted by the recent IPBES [Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services ] Global Assessment report, the current global response has been insufficient, given that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world. Transformative change is necessary in order to restore and protect nature.”

Baby olive Ridley turtles, which are “vulnerable” have found a haven in El Salvador’s Jiquilisco Bay, along with other sea turtles that are endangered. “These animals are facing a slow-motion catastrophe, with increasing ocean pollution, increasing climate change impact,” said Roderic Mast, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Credit: Luis Romero/IPS

‘Pandemic of complacency’

“I’m hoping what this pandemic does for us is draws attention to the pandemic of complacency that we were in before and [how that] contributed to the higher carbon [footprint], to greater human footprint, [and] plastic pollution in the ocean,” Roderic Mast, Co-Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group, told IPS. “Hopefully it’ll make people realise they were having an impact.”

Mast added that one issue that has come up during this lockdown is a rise in illegal poaching in places such as Indonesia and French Guiana. Although this information is yet to be verified, Mast said he has unofficial accounts from community members on the ground that a lack of enforcers on the job means there more illegal poaching is taking place.

Meanwhile, Mrema of the Convention on Biological Diversity said conservation efforts have actually strengthened under the pandemic.

“The present COVID-19 crisis has provided us with a reset button – as well as confirming what we already know, that biodiversity is fundamental to human health – and has given new urgency to the need to protect it,” Mrema said.

However, both experts echoed each others’ sentiments that now is not the time to become complacent seeing the changes the lockdowns have brought to wildlife. For example, just because more sea-turtles are seen out in the open does not mean the crisis has been resolved, Mast said.

“This temporary reduction of stress is not sufficient and we need greater changes in the way we treat our environment,” Mrema said.

A woman stands next to the greenhouse which is part of a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change. The current pandemic has increased violence against women, while improving condition for the nature, putting the debate surrounding it in a unique position. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

“The only thing wrong with the ocean is all the stuff that we humans put in it and all the stuff we humans take out,” Mast added. “So if we can limit what we put in the ocean in terms of pollution, boat traffic, and sounds, and if we can limit what we take out in terms of fisheries — that’s when we’re going to start seeing healthier oceans.”

According to the IUCN’s Red List, 31,030 species of the 116,177 that have been assessed are threatened with extinction. Here are glimpses of conservation efforts and endangered species around the world.

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