The air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all relies on Biodiversity. But because of us, it is now in danger.
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety of all life on earth, in its many forms and many interactions.
But what is biodiversity exactly? Biodiversity exists out of many levels. Starting with the smallest level, genetic diversity. Genes are what makes two dogs from the same litter different. Next we have species diversity. Diversity at the species level like the many different species of crabs you see on the beach. Finally, the last and most encompassing level of biodiversity is entire ecosystem diversity such as coral reefs and tropical forests where all life interacts with the physical environment.
All life on our planet has evolved into biodiverse ecosystems over billions of years. It has built up a knowledge base on how to survive through changing environments. In other words life has adapted. But as we are destroying the planet’s biodiversity we are also destroying all of that knowledge with it. Some experts even refer to humanity - “burning the library of life”.
Hong Kong’s intertidal ecosystem, this is our beaches, rocky shores, mudflats and mangroves, are very biodiverse. Within our mangrove ecosystems for example we can already find 60 different species of crabs and several of these can be found on beaches like Starfish Bay. Starfish Bay is one of Hong Kong’s most accessible bays that lies sheltered along two large strips of land. The Bay is very recognizable by its beautiful long curved beach but is also home to mangrove patches, mudflats and rocky shores! These different habitats provide home to many different species making the bay quite biodiverse. You can find countless snails on the sand, in the mangroves and water, crabs that will run away fast across the mudflats, many clams, worms and even sea slugs and octopus! However, much like most biodiverse ecosystems it faces threats.
Biodiversity loss threatens humanity more than climate change.
Because climate change and biodiversity are closely linked, the effects of climate change impact biodiversity severely. The loss of biodiversity is a much greater threat to humanity than climate change. Climate will eventually recover, even if it takes 100s of years, but once a species disappears it is lost forever. Even though the climate has always changed and ecosystems and species have adapted over time, they cannot keep up with the current speed of the changing climate. This leads to many species dying. Rising temperatures for example have already caused many coral reefs to die. From this point on it’s a domino effect with negative impacts that lead all the way to us. Dead coral reefs cannot house any of the biodiverse fish species, which largely support fish stocks to the fishing industry. This leads to a collapse of food webs and more loss of biodiversity, a collapse of the fisheries industry, a loss of income for many people and a large impact on the economy, and no fish on our plates.
Your actions matter… before it’s too late.
It is clear that a high biodiversity results in the most beautiful natural landscapes on our planet. But it is also clear that it faces major challenges and impacts with very real effects on our own livelihoods.
“To restore stability to our planet, therefore, we must restore its biodiversity, the very thing we have removed. It is the only way out of this crisis that we ourselves have created. We must rewild the world!” - David Attenborough.
The most straightforward solution is to give nature its space and protect it, through protected nature parks and by avoiding any direct destruction inflicted by our own activities. Starfish bay, for example, is heavily impacted by destructible leisure activities such as clam digging. Because clams reside deep in the sand, clam diggers will dig up, heavily disturb and harm other animals living in the sand as well. Illegal dumping of waste and construction materials is another issue that impacts biodiversity and that occurs at many beaches in Hong Kong. You can help report any of these illegal dumping activities, by taking videos or photographs and sharing the info via the EPD hotline 2838 3111. Help preserve the biodiversity we still have on our beautiful beaches.
Lastly, be aware and be appreciative of the biodiversity around you. When out in nature, avoid any further destruction by not participating in any clam digging on the beach that will disturb the sand and might kill animals that live in it. Take away your own trash. Your trash will end up in nature at some point and has harmful effects. Leave only footsteps and take away any other signs of your presence. Any change starts with a single step in the right direction.
This article is contributed by Dr. Laura Agusto, Senior Project Manager of A Plastic Ocean Foundation.
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