World Biodiversity Day 2023 – from agreement to action, build back Biodiversity

By Attish Kanhai, Benthic Ecologist

Institute of Marine Affairs


“All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun”, French filmmaker Jean Luc-Godard was quoted as saying. Well actually he was quoting someone else while making this quote, another filmmaker D.W. Griffith.  The implication here is that action and romance keep us glued to our screens, the gun of course representing action and the girl romance. Give the girl and the gun then we’re in for a doubly good time I suppose. But I digress. Action movies take it one step further by introducing big explosions, things burning and who doesn’t love a high speed car chase?

Action movies account for 51% of the box office in the North American film market. So action, it would seem, speaks louder than words. When it comes to the many problems facing our planet today, action is the operative word, especially when it comes to restoring biodiversity which provides a myriad of goods and services which we cannot replicate or replace.

The first rule about biodiversity is we must talk about biodiversity. What is it exactly? Simply, biological diversity or biodiversity is the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms as well as their genetic variations that exist within different ecosystems. This means all the different types of species and the differences within a specific species, for instance crop varieties, breeds of animals in different ecosystems. 

This isn’t Sparta, but our diverse biological resources are essential for civilization as we know it. According to IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. "The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide." For instance, humanity’s dependence on the ocean cannot be understated. Fish provide 20 per cent of animal protein to about 3 billion people. Over 80 per cent of the human diet is provided by plants. Plants do not only function as a food source but serve medicinal purposes as well. As many as 80 per cent of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant‐based medicines for basic healthcare. What would happen as these resources diminish or even disappear?

Apart from losing significant food sources, the loss of biodiversity can have disastrous consequences for our health as was observed with the recent pandemic. It’s not a matter of if they die, they die. It has been proven that biodiversity loss could expand zoonoses - diseases transmitted from animals to humans- while, on the other hand, if we keep biodiversity intact, it offers excellent tools to fight against pandemics like those caused by the Coronaviruses.

Say goodbye to our little friends. Biodiversity loss means that we are also losing, before discovery, many plants and animals that can be useful to mankind, and can confer many medical and health benefits. We know more about outer space than we do about the deep sea, however, with deep sea mining gaining steam many of the unique creatures that inhabit the ocean’s depths may never see the light of day. Biodiversity changes that may result from activities such as urbanisation, pollution, mining, affect ecosystem functioning and significant disruptions of ecosystems can result in loss of life sustaining ecosystem goods and services.

But enough of the problems, we’re not here to chew bubble gum but to take action. As International Day for Biological Diversity is commemorated on the 22nd of May each year, the call to action could not be clearer. For 2023 it’s time for biodiversity to say, “I’ll be back” as we engage on the task to Build Back Biodiversity. Tackling the biodiversity crisis is not the job of any singular group of people. It requires cooperation at all levels of society, from intergovernmental agreements down to personal responsibility. While governments declare areas or species as environmentally sensitive and work on biodiversity agreements with other nations, the engagement of Non-Governmental Organisations and Community Based Organisations is critical for the success of biodiversity conservation. Agreements and legislation are only as strong as those who are aware and respectful of them. Partnerships cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to protecting members of our planet who cannot speak for themselves. Reconnecting with nature and encouraging others to do the same can raise awareness as to the fragile and precious nature of the Earth’s biodiversity.

On an individual level, there are numerous ways in which we can diminish the negative effects on biodiversity. Consumers can have an impact through what they buy and use in their day to day lives. We should be mindful of our consumption and subsequent waste generation. Personal habits have some part to play in our relationship with nature to the environment.  Reducing what we waste and throw away can play a part in lowering pollution levels and the over exploitation of natural resources both of which are huge strains on biodiversity. Overconsumption of clothes and certain types of meat can have high environmental footprints which can harm biodiversity. Getting more use out of the clothes we already own, consumers can have a positive effect on biodiversity that could also save us money. Our own attitudes to becoming more sustainable consumers with better consumptions practices can have positive effects on biodiversity. Recent “right to repair” legislation in European and North American countries, for instance can go a long way in reducing the amount of electronic waste that is generated if we choose to repair our old devices rather than discard them. 

Spending more time in nature can help improve our relationship with it and attach greater value to the habitats around us. Educating children about wildlife and local ecosystems can help to make our connection to the natural world clearer and bring about long-term behavioural changes in future generations. However, the weight of saving our planet should not fall solely on the younger generation. Those in positions to make better decisions should do just that and lead by example. The planet doesn’t belong to any one person but all those who currently inhabit it and also those who will inhabit it. Conservation and protection are not just strategies for maintenance of the planet but necessary if we are to thrive in our habitat.   

Morgan Freeman at the end of the movie Seven borrowed a quote from Ernest Hemingway which I will also borrow, 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I think we can all agree with that part.