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In partnership with Rolex

Why everyone should
care about biodiversity loss

Loss of the planet’s biodiversity should be the concern of everyone – not only environmental activists – as it has a direct impact on all our daily lives and our futures. Increasingly, authorities, organisations and individuals are helping to resolve the problem.

By Morning Studio editors

April 26, 2022

Biodiversity loss is a term that doesn’t trigger concern among many of us.

When compared with greater public awareness of other pressing environmental problems such as global warming, pollution and waste disposal, it’s an issue that seems relatively distant – something for the conservationists of this world such as Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle to worry about and fight to eradicate. Yet it is something that should concern everyone.

By definition, biodiversity refers to the wide variety of plant and animal species on the planet, and it plays a crucial role in our daily lives – and our futures – by helping to provide the ecosystem services, such as food, air and water security and other natural benefits, on which we rely.

However, the planet’s biodiversity has been rapidly declining because of things such as climate change, over exploitation of natural resources, invasive species, pollution and habitat loss. Upper estimates put the number of species becoming extinct annually at between 10,000 and 100,000.

Habitat loss is one of the major reasons for the rapid decline in the Earth’s biodiversity. Photo: Getty

The size of mammal, bird, fish, amphibian and reptile populations have recorded an average reduction of 68 per cent since 1970. The rapid pace of extinction also continues to accelerate, with rates in the recent past moving at 100 or more times faster than during pre-human times.

Biodiversity decline affects humanity

It’s hard to overstate the importance of biodiversity. The planet’s diverse flora and fauna are key to providing us with the basic building blocks of life – including the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.

The World Health Organization, the UN agency responsible for international public health, says people rely on biodiversity in ways that are not always apparent or appreciated.

“Human health ultimately depends upon ecosystem products and services – such as [the] availability of fresh water, food and fuel sources – which are requisite for good human health and productive livelihoods,” it says.

Biodiversity loss can have significant direct human health impacts if ecosystem services are no longer adequate to meet social needs

The variety of plant and animal species found on Earth plays a vital role in providing the ecosystem services on which we rely, such as food and water security. Photos: Getty

These views were echoed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the international conservation body that is leading the fight against biodiversity loss.

“Put simply, reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease, and where fresh water is in irregular or short supply,” it says.

Biodiversity plays a crucial role in everything from food production and disease prevention to health security and providing nature-based solutions to alleviate climate change. It also contributes to economic livelihoods – be it in the form of tourism, agriculture or manufacturing – and greatly benefits our overall quality of life.

Confronting the crisis head-on

Authorities around the world are thankfully starting to pay attention, and are taking concrete steps to remedy the rapid deterioration of the Earth’s ecosystems.

The virtual, first part of the UN Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, held last October, saw 195 participating countries pledge to reverse the loss of animal and plant species by 2030. China also donated 1.5 billion yuan (US$237 million) to a biodiversity fund established during the event.

Up to 195 nations backed global efforts to protect the Earth’s animal and plant species at last October’s virtual, first part of the UN Biodiversity Conference, or COP15. Photo: SCMP/ Xinhua

Furthermore, a March 2022 session of the UN Environment Assembly saw 175 countries agree to develop a global agreement to restrict plastic waste – a leading factor in the biodiversity decline of our oceans, affecting coral reefs, sea turtles, fish and other marine wildlife.

At the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which ended last November, the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, the United States and the Netherlands, in partnership with 17 global philanthropic groups, committed US$1.7 billion to support Indigenous and local communities in preserving the biodiversity of tropical forests.

Nine humanitarian groups also made the largest-ever philanthropic commitment to nature conservation last September, when they pledged US$5 billion over the next decade for environmental and biodiversity protection.

Projects propelling the cause

While biodiversity decline is a grave concern, many organisations and individuals are working tirelessly to create a better planet for us all.

As part of its Perpetual Planet initiative, Rolex supports individuals and organisations that are using science to understand and devise solutions to environmental challenges to to better protect our planet.

Scientists have climbed Mount Everest (top left and right) to install the world’s highest weather station and dived in submerged caves to search for sources of contaminated water in the giant aquifer in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as part of the Perpetual Planet initiative. Photos: Rolex, National Geographic/Evan Whitney, Robbie Schmittner

The framework of the initiative involves an enhanced collaboration with National Geographic, which harnesses world-renowned expertise and cutting-edge technology to explore vulnerable environments and uncover new insights into the impact of climate. Its projects have included installing the world’s highest weather station on Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.

Rolex also collaborates with other partners on various expeditions including supporting scientists who dived in submerged caves to search for the sources of contaminated water in the giant aquifer beneath Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

There is also support for individuals around the world who are getting involved. Rwandan veterinarian Olivier Nsengimana, for instance, is helping his country emerge as the inspiration for future African conservation activity by advocating for the restoration of the grey crowned crane’s natural habitat.

Nsengimana is among the select group of laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which supports exceptional individuals with innovative projects that improve life on the planet, propose solutions to major challenges and preserve our natural and cultural heritage for future generations.

American undersea explorer Sylvia Earle (left) says the Mission Blue project, supported by Rolex, highlights conservation efforts in a network of more than 140 global marine areas. Photos: Rolex/Reto Albertalli

Meanwhile, the Mission Blue project, founded in 2009 by legendary American undersea explorer Sylvia Earle, is also supported by Rolex’s Perpetual Planet initiative.

Mission Blue has developed a network of more than 140 global marine areas – described by Earle as “Hope Spots” – that are important for the health of the Earth’s oceans. These areas located in critically vulnerable parts of the sea, are instrumental in curbing biodiversity decline.

Many commercially exploited species of fish have declined by 90 per cent, while about half of the coral reefs have disappeared or experienced serious deterioration.

It’s taken more than four billion years to arrive at the state we enjoy today – [and] about four and a half decades for us to significantly unravel [it]

Sylvia Earle

“It’s taken more than four billion years to arrive at the state that we enjoy today,” Earle says. “It’s taken us about four and a half decades to significantly unravel those systems that make Earth habitable for us and the rest of life on Earth as we know it. The next 10 years will really determine the outcome of the next 10,000 years.”

This article is part of a two-episode series, Guardians of the future, which highlights the efforts of Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureates. The next episode will feature six of these inspiring laureates, who are working to resolve today’s pressing global problems.

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