When the United Nations General Assembly decreed 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity, the hope was that during the course of the year, events will occur in every region of the world to raise public awareness of the importance of biological diversity to human well-being. Some important issues include protected areas, sustainable use of biodiversity, and the connection between biodiversity and climate change. With more than half of the year over and the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to be held in October in Nagoya, Japan, quickly approaching, now is a good time to remind ourselves why biodiversity conservation is so crucial.
As early as 3.8 billion years ago, the correct elements were magically combined on our previously barren planet to generate all of the subsequent life on Earth. It is remarkable that everything from sprawling moss to a towering giraffe derived from the seemingly simple combination of water, methane, ammonia, and nitrogen struck by a spark leading to the formation of amino acids, basic organic molecules of life.
From this humble beginning, we now share our home planet with 1.9 million identified species. There are 1 million species of insects alone, everything ranging from the common housefly, Musca domestica,
to the exotic Hercules beetle, Dynastes hercules
, which can support 850 times its own weight on its shell! Life can persist in the freezing cold of Antarctica as well as the high pressure and heat of hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean. Over time, species have an amazing capability to adjust to their environments, and these adaptations create a dizzy array of life forms.
Even now there is so much that remains unexplored. What we know is a small fraction of the true diversity of our planet, an estimated 11 million species. The ocean covers 70 percent of the world’s surface, and yet 95 percent of it remains unexplored. Much of the impenetrable jungle in the center of South America and the Greenland icecaps are still largely mysteries. In the following years, it will be exciting to see what scientists will discover next.
As humans, it is often easy for us to forget that we are only one species. After all, like a virus we have spread to the furthest reaches of Earth, bringing destruction with us. We pollute our bodies of water, leach toxic chemicals into the soil, and spout greenhouse gases that accumulate and cause global warming. By some estimates, we are losing biodiversity at a rate that will halve the number of species on Earth within the next 100 years. As guests of the planet, we have a moral obligation to respect and sustain the lives of our co-inhabitants. If we actively work to conserve biodiversity, we can maintain our beautiful home for posterity. For this reason, we should view this not as a year devoted to biodiversity, but rather a lifetime.