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ENVIRONMENT| 08.02.2021

Why is wildlife (and biodiversity) continuing to decrease, and why can’t we stop the trend?

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Despite the efforts made by several organizations, many wild animal populations are disappearing every year, and the trend is set to continue in the years to come. Can anything be done about it?

It is well-known that human beings and their evolution as a species over the past century and a half have brought about environmental problems, owing to the indiscriminate increase in pollution at all levels.

Only in recent decades has awareness grown in facing a situation that is showing no signs of improving in the short-term. And even though many countries have begun working to curb climate change by 2050, all sorts of dubious records continue to be broken every year, resulting in an alarming loss of biodiversity.


Wildlife, badly affected

Added to an already complex scenario is the critical situation of wildlife, which is particularly apparent when looking at historical information such as data collected by the Living Planet Index (LPI), provided to the NGO World Wildlife Fund (WWF) by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The WWF notes that from 1970 to 2016, the populations of wild vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians) fell by 68 percent on average, which translates into around 21,000 populations. This is certainly a devastating number, and many organizations are calling to curb the decline. This is for good reason, given that the decline was 8 percent between 2014 and 2016 alone.

In that regard, the situation is particularly critical in Latin America, where the figure stands at 94 percent. The worst thing about that particular statistic is that Latin America is home to three of world’s most biodiverse countries: Colombia, Mexico and, above all, Brazil.

And in the case of the latter country, one of the biggest challenges it faces is deforestation. According to data recently provided by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), during the first four months of 2020 alone, deforestation alerts in the Amazon were up 64 percent compared to the same period in the previous year.

Aquatic ecosystems

But it isn’t just terrestrial ecosystems that are suffering. In the case of the vast areas surrounding the Amazon, aquatic ecosystems in general and freshwater ecosystems in particular are further deteriorating as a result of human intervention. This means that amphibians, reptiles and fish are the species experiencing the greatest deterioration.

This situation has been caused by changes in land use and the overexploitation of resources. When coupled with climate change, caused by the gradual increase in global temperatures, the result is that multiple plant species will die out and, with them, animal species incapable of adapting to an environment to which they are unaccustomed and that is ultimately incompatible with their survival.

These data provided by the WWF are endorsed by a report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The report explains how the impact of human beings has been the direct cause of the “mass” disappearance of species. In that context, it points out that up to one million species are in serious danger of extinction. In addition, the IPBES says that more than 40 percent of invertebrate pollinators (bees, butterflies, etc.) are endangered, as well as 16.5 percent of vertebrate pollinators.

A warning to humanity

The loss of biodiversity is something that humans cannot ignore and is sometimes due to the exploitation of land for agricultural practices. In this case, we must champion circular economy models and fair and reasonable agriculture. Otherwise, humans will suffer the consequences.

As the WWF report points out, “humanity’s health depends to a large extent on nature being healthy. From the air we breathe, drinking water and food to energy, medicine and materials, nature is vital to our survival and well-being.”

So much so that the emergence of the coronavirus may be related to this scenario, given that humans’ mistreatment of nature leads to the appearance of animal-related diseases (zoonotic diseases). This is the case with regard to Ebola, SARS and, of course, COVID-19.

“In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, it should be recalled that intact ecosystems provide natural barriers to these kinds of diseases. Public money should not be invested in bailing out the most heavily polluting companies, but should be directed instead to looking after ourselves by protecting nature and allowing working people to transition to green jobs, while also supporting a rural Spain that gives us everything we need for a healthy life,” said Pilar Marcos, Biodiversity Program Manager at Greenpeace Spain.

Why haven’t we managed to halt it?

That is a very easy question to answer — the only valid response is that we haven’t taken the necessary steps to curb what is a terrible trend for ecosystems around the world.

In the face of this situation, it is important to consider what those measures should be. The Fundación Aquae (Aquae Foundation) suggests ten tips that should not be overlooked:

1. Ban the hunting of animals, especially with regard to endangered species.

2. Prevent deforestation, as cutting down trees causes chaos to animal life.

3. Demarcate protected areas and nature reserves.

4. Prevent the pollution of natural resources to ensure that animals and human beings alike don’t suffer the consequences.

5. Promote plans for captive breeding.

6. Contribute to reducing the number of trees we cut down by recycling.

7. Respect protected areas and natural reserves. Not only do they need to be properly demarcated, but it is also important to monitor their proper conservation.

8. Buy responsibly.

9. Restore ecosystems.

10. Make donations to organizations that help maintain the planet’s biodiversity. After all, any help will be most welcome.