Extinction means forever

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We are a part of nature and we cannot exist without nature. As the Red Indian leader Chief Seattle said, man is not the sole owner of the earth and he is merely a strand of this huge web of life. Every tree and animal has the same right to live in the world, though humans have exploited their right to live.

As we celebrated the International Day for Biological Diversity yesterday (22 May), we ought to focus on the situation in Sri Lanka. Biodiversity means the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat, a high level of which is usually considered to be important and desirable.

Simply put, biodiversity is the variety of species living on earth. Without the vast number of plants, creatures, and microorganisms, life on earth wouldn’t exist. Every species, even the smallest, is significant to maintain the balance and existence of the planet. They depend on each other and support each other.

 Biodiversity gives Oxygen, nutrients, clean air, and water, helps in pest control, contributes to wastewater treatment, fights pollution, protects soil, fights climate change, and gives us food, raw materials, and medicines. Our economy and culture largely depend on biodiversity. They nourish us, inspire us, and give us energy. Our very existence is threatened when biodiversity is threatened.

Hence biodiversity loss is a great threat. Deforestation, overpopulation, climate change, and pollution are the major causes of biodiversity loss. The loss of biodiversity is occurring at a high speed in recent times, as it has never been in recorded history. It is reported that more than one million species are heading towards extinction by 2050.

Biodiversity loss is a special concern for a country like Sri Lanka where a rich biodiversity id observed. To know about Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, the threats it is facing, and solutions we can do to conserve, Ceylon Today contacted environmentalist and herpetologist Sameera Suranjan Karunarathna who has done extensive research about the fauna of Sri Lanka and is working hard towards their conservation.

The biggest cause of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity loss

 As Karunarathna explained, habitat destruction can be identified as a major cause of biodiversity loss in Sri Lanka. Also, habitat degradation and habitat fragmentation along with climate change worsen the situation in Sri Lanka.

How has Sri Lanka’s biodiversity been affected?

When asked how habitat destruction, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation along with climate change have affected the biodiversity of Sri Lanka, Karunarathna said that an animal population belonging to one species can be completely wiped off the earth because of habitat loss.

“The other is that due to habitat fragmentation, one species currently living in a large area is divided into two small parts and genetic drift starts to happen”, he said.

He further explained that in such situations, there is a great potential for weak animals to breed there.

“Smaller the forest, greater the edge effect is.”

Extinct and Vulnerable species of Sri Lanka

The list of flora and fauna in Sri Lanka that were declared ‘Extinct’ or ‘Vulnerable’ during the past two decades is not a reason to be taken lightly. The number is notably high. As Karunarathna enlightened us, according to the recent IUCN Red List, 18 species of amphibians, two species of freshwater fishes, and nearly 50 species of flora were declared extinct from Sri Lanka

Species going extinct is a natural process and sometimes we cannot intervene in this process. However, if the cause of extinction is human activities, then of course, we must take responsibility and action.

We must understand that when a species is extinct, we cannot revive it back unless great conservation measures are taken with great effort. The best is to prevent and take precautions.

The most serious part is that all of these extinct species are endemic to Sri Lanka, especially amphibians and freshwater fishes. When an endemic species is extinct, that means, it vanishes forever from the face of the earth.

Have we taken action?

Karunarthna said that, Sri Lanka has lost about 25 per cent of Sri Lanka’s forest cover in the last two decades, and many more forests were fragmented into small pieces due to various human activities and mainly unplanned development projects.

“Many researchers have, from time to time, suggested to the Government to increase the forest cover and declare new protected areas as a remedy,” he said.

Then why is there no notable positive improvement? Answering our question Karunarthna said, “In my opinion, decisions are limited to papers, for example, policies and management planning. We need to increase the quality of our forests and generate income for the surrounding community via sustainable tourism. If so, people are interested in protecting forests,” he said.

How can we make a change?

While the policymakers are taking their own time, there is so much that we can do to help save our biodiversity as citizens of this country. We as individuals can make a positive change. But how and what can we do?

Karunarathne said that we need to manage our waste generation and we need to generate energy from our garbage.

“Steps must be taken immediately to obtain renewable energy.”

Also, he highlighted the importance of including environmental studies in school education. The school syllabus should focus on the value of the environment and what needs to be done to protect it. These should be practical lessons and students at very early age should be involved in environmental projects.

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy