Friday, 22 May 2015

International Day for Biological Diversity

Today, we celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity, a bit of a mouthful, but an important day to reflect on our environments, ecosystems and biological surroundings and to understand their importance. As I write this, I sit on a tropical island, surrounded by rainforests, white sandy beaches and stunning coral reef environments. So it is perhaps very easy for me to sit and talk about the importance and value of these systems and their biological diversity, but if you spend a few minutes to think about the environment you live in, I am sure you will find equally important links.

2015’s theme is ‘Biodiversity for Sustainable Development’. When people think of biodiversity and development together, they usually see it as development destroying biodiversity (the eco-warrior view) or biodiversity preventing development (the corporation view). In reality, there is no reason why the two things cannot work together, technology has advanced to a stage where there is no reason we can’t accommodate biodiversity in our lives and development; Sustainable Development.

To understand what sustainable development is, we first need to know what sustainable means. The most commonly used definition is taken from ‘Our Common Future’ (1987) states:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

Within this, they consider two key notions, firstly the notion of ‘needs’, particularly those of the world’s poorest, to which key consideration should be given. Secondly the notion of limitations felt by technology and society on the ability for the environment to meet said needs.

As I already said, it is very easy for me to consider biological diversity where I am due to the very obvious importance of the ecosystems and development for the local community. There are inherent links between the local community and the biological diversity of the islands. The relationships between development, society and the environment are complicated and difficult, which just further highlights the importance of considering sustainable development.

So this highly scientific and complicated looking image clearly took hours of research and time to develop…Ok fine, it didn't, but it can quickly highlight the relationships and importance of sustainable development within the Perhentian Islands.

The community rely, predominantly, on tourism to remain economically sustainable. Tourism, in turn relies on a number of factors, resorts, rainforests coral reefs and turtles. A simple questionnaire we conducted last year showed that 60% (n 274) of tourists wanted to see a turtle, whilst 80% said they had already, or planned to go on a snorkel tour during their stay. Both of these aspects highlight the importance of biological diversity through the importance of the presence of coral reefs and turtles for sustainable development. In order to develop the islands, there must always be a consideration for these aspects, including the threats (Sedimentation, over fishing, waste management) that come hand in hand with development and deforestation.

Why is biological diversity important in a coral reef you ask? Let’s look at the well-researched and complicated diagram below to help us understand…

The image that was carefully put together above highlights the varied intricacies found within an ecosystem. This is a highly simplified diagram, so please do not take it as absolute. We can see that Fish are involved in many interactions, which is because this category includes numerous species with varying behaviours! 

Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Damsel fish and other grazers can often be found eating algae from the reef, without them, the algae would be given too much of a free reign and could over grow the reef, smothering corals (not feeding on, just smothering), a similar scenario could exist if nutrient levels were to increase excessively, such as an area where no proper sewerage were present and waste flowed or leeched directly into the sea. Likewise, excessive removal of predator species at the top of the food chain, can result in explosions in the fish category, meaning reduced levels of invertebrates and algae.

Ecosystems are carefully balanced and naturally fluctuate annually and seasonally, but in areas where development is occurring, like Perhentian, it is vital that it is competed sustainably, considering the long term implications and careful management of the biological diversity in-line with the societal and economic success.