Earth Today | ‘Let’s preserve our natural heritage’
WITH THE passage of International Day for Biological Diversity yesterday, Jamaicans have been urged to act in their own interest by taking care of the natural environment, now teeming with life from plants, animals and microorganisms vital to preserving the world as they know it.
“As we educate and inspire, we hope to challenge the current generation to preserve our natural heritage,” said Eartha Cole, education outreach officer at the Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ).
“Climate change and shifts in weather conditions threaten our natural environment, our animals and our beautiful surroundings. Additional negative human impact influences the degradation of our natural beauty and the extinction of our endemic species,” she added.
The Convention on Biological Diversity website reveals, in fact, that “climate change is likely to become one of the most significant drivers of biodiversity loss by the end of the century” and “is already forcing biodiversity to adapt either through shifting habitat, changing life cycles, or the development of new physical traits”.
“Conserving natural terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems and restoring degraded ecosystems (including their genetic and species diversity) is essential for the overall goals of both the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change because ecosystems play a key role in the global carbon cycle and in adapting to climate change, while also providing a wide range of ecosystem services,” it added.
The United Nations website itself articulates well the case for biodiversity conservation efforts.
“It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made Earth a uniquely habitable place for humans. Biodiversity provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives,” it reads on the subject.
“Biological resources are the pillars upon which we build civilisations. Nature’s products support such diverse industries as agriculture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, horticulture, construction and waste treatment. The loss of biodiversity threatens our food supplies, opportunities for recreation and tourism, and sources of wood, medicines and energy. It also interferes with essential ecological functions,” the site added.
This comes against the background of some eye-opening data, including that 70 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend directly on biodiversity for their survival, even as the average abundance of species is declining, with some 40 per cent loss between 1970 and 2000 alone.
According to Cole, there is as yet no conclusive study on species loss for Jamaica, but with the rate of loss globally, Jamaicans do need to wake up.
“If we do not put steps in place to protect them, our species will follow a similar trend,” she predicted.
“All living things have an intrinsic value, and each plays a unique role in the complex web of life. We must work together to protect endangered and threatened species: bees, coral reefs, bats, and our vast variety of plants, insects and more,” Cole added.
Jamaica is reputed to have the largest number of endemic birds for any Caribbean island and ranked fifth among the world’s islands in terms of endemic plant life.
“We should take extra care to protect these endemic species,” the NHMJ education outreach officer advised.
It is against this background, she noted, that the NHMJ does its work.
“The Institute of Jamaica, through the Natural History Museum of Jamaica, maintains research collections of plants and animals which are used by research scientists to advance conservation efforts throughout Jamaica and worldwide. Additionally, we educate Jamaicans on the importance of preserving the island’s biodiversity,” she said.
Among other things, they also offer nature tours through the Mason River Protected Area and host visits to their Discovery Room at the IOJ in Kingston.
“Our current exhibition, titled ‘Protecting Our Species’, highlights over 100 displays of Jamaican plant and animal specimens, some of which are familiar, some are unusual, yet all are unique and thought-provoking aspects of our biodiversity to evoke wonder, excitement and awe,” Cole said.