Unique treasure in danger

Debapriya Mukherjee
Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to preserve and conserve the biodiversity of India describing it as a "unique treasure" for the entire humankind. In this context he referred the discovery of a new species of fish that is the largest among aquatic species found under the impathis discovery lends a new facet to India’s biodiversity. The PM also conveyed that the traditions and the legacy inherited  would teach us compassion toward all living beings and boundless love for nature. With reference to the PM’s views it is pertinent to mention that biodiversity of natural ecosystem provides invaluable material services to people, from mangrove forests that protect millions from coastal flooding to wetlands that help purify our drinking water to insects that pollinate our fruits and vegetables and thereby nature’s contributions to people are humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But there is no denying that our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point on account of government’s inaction to prevent rampant overexploitation of natural resources and drowning in pollution to fulfill the greed of corporate and politicians in the name of “development”. Exploitation of natural resources has been vital for human development throughout history, but the cost to biosphere integrity has been high as present development practice is not sustainable to maintain equilibrium among economics, environment and society.  Though  we consider the biodiversity  as “unique treasure” but as many as one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction.  We all know that this biodiversity loss is the result of  changes in land use primarily the conversion of pristine native habitats into agricultural systems to feed the world, urban sprawl, unregulated mining, deforestation, and commercial forestry even in Himalayan region;  changes in sea use for intensive farming and tourist spot, direct exploitation of organisms; climate change;  pollution,  poaching, the transport of invasive species and, increasingly, global warming. In addition, the major  causes of loss of this “unique treasure”  are poor governance, unsustainable economic systems, inequalities, lack of cross-sectorial planning and incentives, unsustainable social narratives and values.
The governments’ negligence/inaction in maintaining natural ecosystem is practically “ecocidal” that causes  a million species at risk of being wiped out. Unfortunately at present the nature is “at death’s door” that  constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world. Sadly the foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life are being eroded. Though political  leaders time and again  have pledged to avert it but  implementation of legal and institutional frameworks is not effective  to protect biodiversity loss and all of the human rights that depend on healthy ecosystems .
Already  three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock productions. Many virgin areas have been covered by concrete, swallowed up by dam reservoirs or otherwise. Millions of acres of wetlands and rain forests are being cleared away. Unsustainable Industrial agriculture practice is one of the main culprits of biodiversity decline.  There is no  effective and balanced policies to protect ecosystems’ health while producing sufficient nutritious food for all. In addition, most fish stocks are overfished; pesticide use has doubled in just 13 years and 400 million tons of toxic waste are dumped into freshwater each year. More than 80% of wastewater is pumped into streams, lakes and oceans without treatment, along with 300m-400m tons of heavy metals, toxic slurry and other industrial discharges. Plastic waste has risen tenfold since 1980, affecting 86% of marine turtles, 44% of seabirds and 43% of marine mammals. Fertilizer run-off has created 400 “dead zones”, affecting an area the size of the UK. If this practice gets continued; ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals will be further  shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing.
In this view it may be mentioned that tropical biodiversity hotspots are of particular concern as they comprise the nucleus of endemic species of flora and fauna. Nowadays, over-exploitation of plants from natural, wild environments, habitat loss due to deforestation and extreme grazing in high-altitude Himalayan regions threatens the survival of many plants. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened. From pollination to photosynthesis, all humans depend on healthy ecosystems. Sadly, the world’s poorest communities, indigenous peoples, farmers and fishermen are particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of changes in climate, biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
The economic recession considering it as  major political issue gets media attention regularly. Even, climate change that is more apparent and has become a major environmental issue because people are facing  record-breaking heat waves, deadly wildfires, rising sea levels and devastation floods, garnering quite a lot  of media attention. But the ecological recession particularly the decline in the diversity of plant and animal life around the world that would have even worse consequences tends to get considerably less media coverage. One possible reason is that the people do not see - species are vanishing, because many of those species are not visible. Also it is very difficult to observe how many insects are there compared to insect population 30 years ago.  It is so complex that people can not grasp the links between biodiversity loss and human suffering but biodiversity loss is an urgent issue for human well-being.
Though understanding of this crisis is now clear and explores the magnitude of the challenge but global goals to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss have mostly not been achieved. In this piquant situation, human intervention must be needed to bring biodiversity back up and this biodiversity loss may be declared as ecological emergency otherwise it will be ecological roulette. The natural biodiversity plays crucial role in maintaining 'ecosystem functions' such as cleanliness of  water and ambient air; controlling soil erosion; nutrient-cycling and also the pollination of plants and food crops by a variety of insects and other animals and many more. Many examples of conservation success show that losses can be halted and even reversed. Now bold and innovative action is urgently required to transform historical relationships between human populations and nature. It is obviously a herculean task and it needs to  massive changes. Particularly central government must enact a laws that encourage the protection of nature; from reducing our growing addiction to fossil-fuel energy and natural resource consumption, to rethinking the definition of a rewarding life. Slowing or reversing the global loss of local biodiversity will require preserving the remaining areas of natural (primary) vegetation and, so far as possible, restoring human-used lands to natural (secondary) vegetation. Simultaneously groundwork for a rescue plan over the coming 30 years may be laid down  to reverse some of the damage to animals, oceans and flora and fauna caused by human interference. Of course  world political leaders who have failed  to protect biodiversity must be forced to reverse the tide of this decline. For successful implementation we need  committed and supportive national governments who can implement conservation monitoring programs and  establish a network of long-term and continent-wide endangered species and biodiversity monitoring. Also government must  encourage citizen-sciences’ biodiversity monitoring programs by involving the universities, research centers, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and local communities in one standardized monitoring efforts initiatives. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. 
Last but not the least it is the moral issue because we should not destroy the living planet.
About the auther:
Former senior scientist
Central Pollution Control Board
Address : A-139, Survey Park, Santoshpur, Kolkata-700075
 Mobile :  919432370163 & 916290099509
E-mail: [email protected]