22 May

Biodiversity loss may just be a foreign concept to you. In fact, it might not be on your agenda at all. But it should be. For this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity, which falls on 22 May 2012, perhaps it’s time you sat up and smelt the roses, before they all disappear.

While biodiversity, or the lack of it, may not seem a huge problem in your life, the sad reality is that in fact it is. An international study, published last week in the journal, Nature, shows that losing biodiversity appears to affect ecosystems as much as climate change, pollution and other major forms of environmental stress. This is because it is the inherent biodiversity of natural systems that make up the various eco-systems we experience around us and as this web of life begins to unravel, so does the whole system. Without biodiversity, global ecosystems would fail, and this means the whole world around you with it. Now that is something to worry about.

Take our oceans for example. For centuries people have regarded oceans as an inexhaustible supply of food, a useful transport route, and a convenient dumping ground – simply too vast to be affected by anything we do. But human activity, particularly over the last few decades, has finally pushed oceans to their limit. They might cover over 70% of our planet’s surface, but only a tiny fraction of the oceans have been protected: just 0.6% according to the WWF. Even worse, the vast majority of the world’s few marine parks and reserves are protected in name only. Without more and better managed Marine Protected Areas, the future of the ocean’s rich biodiversity – and the local economies they support – remains uncertain.

To heighten awareness around the plight of our oceans, this year, the theme of International Day for Biodiversity is “Marine Biodiversity”.

This is an area that is being hard hit in terms of biodiversity loss as overfishing threatens to collapse marine ecosystems permanently. Jason Drew, author of the Protein Crunch explains how you only need to look at the shelves of your local supermarket packed full of “Baby Hake Fillets”, “Sole Petite” and other immature fish to understand the extent of the problem: “The only full size fish are farmed ones fed on even smaller fish caught at sea. We have already eaten their parents.

In addition, each year, billions of unwanted fish and other animals – like dolphins, marine turtles, seabirds, sharks and corals – die due to inefficient, illegal and destructive fishing practices.

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s website (www.cbd.int), “Commercial overexploitation of the world’s fish stocks is so severe that it has been estimated that up to 13 percent of global fisheries have ‘collapsed’. Between 30 and 35 percent of the global extent of critical marine habitats such as sea grasses, mangroves and coral reefs are estimated to have been destroyed.” This is worrying, considering the oceans cover around 71% of the Earth’s surface and hold species such as tiny phytoplankton that, according to the website, provide up to 50% of the Earth’s oxygen.

Fortunately, phytoplankton are not the only ones that produce oxygen, trees do as well. This is why for 22 years, Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) has been planting trees in an attempt to combat the effects of climate change. As the first, and only, South African social enterprise addressing sustainable development through climate change action, food security and greening, with a strong focus on environmental and global warming education and awareness, FTFA has now planted almost 4.2 million trees! That is a lot of oxygen produced! It’s also a lot of carbon sequestered, according to the Verified Carbon Standard, considering that each tree planted through FTFA’s programmes will absorb in excess of 500kg of CO2 over its lifetime.

FTFA hasn’t stopped there; we are now also planting bamboo through our Bamboo for Africa programme. This miracle plant with its 1 200 known uses not only provides community upliftment as a form of enterprise development, but a single clump of bamboo can sequester 1.7 tons of carbon. The Global Environmental Facility’s Small Grants Programme, implemented by United Nations Development Programme, is investing in biodiversity protection by sponsoring a bamboo programme through FTFA. The first of these plants will be in the ground in spring, around September this year.

Trees and bamboo are not only beautiful, useful and necessary, but they inadvertently increase the natural biodiversity of the areas in which they occur. So this International Day for Biological Diversity that point alone is something worthwhile to stop and consider.

For more information on Food & Trees for Africa, visit www.trees.co.za.

The Ridge is teaming up with uShaka Marine World and giving two sets of Sea World tickets to the first two people who email robyn@famouspublishing.co.za the theme of this year’s  International Day for Biological Diversity.








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