is biodiversity conservation important?
We have been hearing this same old refrain, "The world's biodiversity
is being lost at an alarming rate" for such a long time that
many of us are desensitized to it. Whatever our reaction, the phrase
remains true. In every country, especially in the tropics, there
have been irreparable losses of natural habitat. In Malaysia, rare
forests have been cleared for a resort-casino complex. In the Philippines,
squatters are replacing mountain forests with cabbage and potato
fields, and are cutting the trees for wood from which to carve tourist
trinkets. In Indonesia, irreplaceable peat wetlands were consumed
by agricultural fires gone wild because the 1997 El Nino event prevented
normal rains from quenching the fires.
Discovered in 2001, this Vietnamese
Paphiopedilum orchid is new to science.
Right here in the United States, the situation is similar. Fertilizers
and chemicals from agriculture are upsetting the delicate balance
of the Florida Everglades, and acid rain has been decimating forests
in the Eastern States. Even in a country that has seen catastrophic
changes to the natural environment, new species are still being
found on a regular basis, e.g. the Shasta Snow Wreath and Twisselmannia
in California, or the
Okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis) in Florida.
Nature in Peril
Potato fields area fast replacing
cloud forests (Luzon, Philippines.)
Smoke from El Nino wildfires completely
obscure the sun except for rare moments like this one
Rare ridge-top habitat is mowed for
parking lots and hotels (West Malaysia.)
Most of the world's biodiversity is being destroyed
even before it has a chance to be studied or described. Aldo
Leopold, the pioneer of environmental conservation,
said that each species is a link in the web of life, and if some
links become extinct, the web loses integrity and eventually disintegrates.
This implies that every species is dependent on other species for
its survival. It is vital to save all the links, even if we are
unaware of their connections, as somewhere along the line, the human
race will be affected by such losses. The main premise is that humans
are part of this web of life. Hence the need to conserve as many
links (species) as possible, i.e. entire ecosystems, so that all
the species and their inter-relationships in an ecosystem remain
intact. Another common simile describes the world's biodiversity
as a library of genetic information about life on earth. If the
books (species) are being burned even before they are read, we are
losing irretrievable information that may one day improve our lives,
such as a cure for disease through new or improved medicines.