The International Day for Biological Diversity is celebrated each year on 22 May, a date in our Calendar dedicated to raising global awareness about the importance of protecting biological resources and the global biodiversity that shapes our environment — not only the various species of plants, animals and microorganisms around us, but also the genetic diversity of each of them, as well as the great variety of ecosystems that make up our planet.
The disappearance of the International Day for Biological Diversity from our list of annual milestones would be major news, as international days of observance exist to give much needed visibility to problems that must be resolutely tackled. But when it comes to biodiversity, the data regarding its deterioration continues to get worse year-on-year and the need to take action to stop this grows increasingly urgent.
According to the UN, three-quarters of the Earth's land-based environment and about 66 % of the marine environment have been altered by human activity, and the latest report submitted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), states that more than one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.
Biodiversity: The key to curbing pandemics
According to the UN, more than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, whilst another 1.6 billion depend on forests. The conservation of the Earth's species no longer constitutes a mere altruistic dimension; it is vital to ensuring our very survival.
In fact, pandemics such as the latest COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak force us to reconsider the protective role that biodiversity plays in the future of humankind, since its many advantages result in one fundamental benefit: protection from infectious diseases.
There is evidence to suggest that the loss of biodiversity could increase the number of cases of zoonosis, in other words, diseases transmitted from animals to humans. In fact, 70 % of emerging infectious diseases in recent years have stemmed from zoonosis. Since several species are often involved in the spread of infection, the loss of biodiversity and extinction of many of those species increases the chances of the pathogens reaching human beings.
Therefore, whilst the WHO asks us to prepare for possible unexpected scenarios, scientists insist that surrounding ourselves with healthy, functional and species-rich ecosystems would be best for humankind and for the stability of our planet.
HOW NATURE PROTECTS US FROM POTENTIAL PANDEMICS
According to some scientists, our planet's biodiversity has two protection mechanisms:
When a virus reaches an intermediary host in which it is unable to achieve optimal concentration to thrive, meaning the chances of it continuing to spread are very low.
When a virus reaches an intermediary host whose genetic diversity allows it to adapt to the virus, thereby becoming resistant.
Climate change remains a major threat to biodiversity
However, despite the fact that biodiversity is vital to human survival, humans are responsible for its greatest threat: climate change.
There are several species that have already suffered irreversible consequences or are just about to do it:
- Three species disappear every hour
- From 100 to 150 species disappear every day
- From 15.000 to 80.000 species disappear every year
These figures, despite their large size, are no more than figures. But if we picture them on a familiar face, they can make us more aware of what we are losing:
- The polar bear population in Canada has decreased by 22% in the last thirty years as a result of climate change. The melting of the poles causes a decrease in food for hunting and an increase of the distances sometimes impossible to swim. Their malnutrition prevents them from spending the winter with guarantees of survival.
- Up to 74 species of cloud forest frogs have already disappeared due to the environmental dryness caused by global warming. These amphibians need specific humidity conditions for incubating their eggs and this conditions are no longer happening in many ecosystems.
- The Adelie penguin population in Antarctica decreased over the last twenty years from 320 pairs to 54 pairs. Why? The increase of 5,5 0C in that area over the last half century has forced the massive exodus of the krill, a kind of crustacean that represents their main food source, towards colder waters these penguins cannot easily reach.
- The flycatcher, a species of bird that lives in the Netherlands, has experienced a 90% population decrease in a few decades. Once again, the cause is a change of behaviour amongst his food supply caused by climate change. The young birds in this species are usually born when caterpillars hatch. With the gradual temperature raise, caterpillars began to anticipate their hatching a fortnight, so when flycatcher babies are born, their parents can’t find caterpillars to feed them.
Our solutions are in nature
The UN theme for this year's International Day for Biological Diversity is "Our solutions are in nature", a slogan that stresses the importance of working together with institutions, science, the private sector and society in order to remedy a global problem that affects us all.