A SPECTACULAR picture of a humpback whale raising itself out of the sea off Hook Head, in Co Wexford, made it to the front page of this newspaper last Tuesday.
On many other days, you will find animal and nature stories in the inside pages – a reflection of growing public interest in wildlife and the world around us.
Television documentaries by the likes of David Attenborough continue to prime such interest.
In Ireland, more people are getting into whale and dolphin watching as well as exploring the great outdoors, as can be seen from numbers taking to the hills and walking in remote places at weekends.
Biodiversity – the variety of life in all its forms on the planet – is a term we are going to hear much about because 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, which was launched last week with calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner for countries to do more to halt the loss of biodiversity.
Even though more than half of Irish people surveyed said they had never heard of biodiversity, it is something that affects everybody. For instance, recent problems caused by domestic water shortages in many parts of the country have made people painfully aware of our total dependence on clean water.
Cliona O’Brien, Heritage Council wildlife officer, says it is not just a matter of adequate rainfall and pipes that do not leak. People do not consider something as fundamental as how biodiversity is affecting our water, she points out.
Simple water lice and the threatened crayfish are just two of the species that clean and purify the water in our rivers, lakes and wetlands, whilst also absorbing the pollution in them. “We need to maintain these healthy populations of biodiversity in order to preserve our healthy water sources“, Ms O’Brien stresses.
It could be said that biodiversity, wildlife and our natural heritage are the bedrock on which the human community is based and on which we feed, drink, survive, or fail. It is our vital green infrastructure, providing us with food, water, medicine and shelter.
Research by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 2008 revealed only 7% of the habitats examined, such as raised bogs, fens, heaths, limestone pavement, old oak woodlands and caves, are in good condition, with 46% in poor condition and 47% in bad condition.
Worryingly, only around 50% of protected species, such as the Killarney fern or the Kerry slug, are in good condition while 10% are in bad status, including the Atlantic salmon.
Hidden behind these figures is the impact biodiversity loss is having on the services we rely on a day-to-day basis, such as the provision of clean drinking water.
In 2002, the international community set ia target to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. The EU, including Ireland, went further and committed to halting biodiversity loss.
Now in 2010, however, it is widely accepted that neither target has been met.
A 2007 European study found that the majority of Irish people still have little awareness of biodiversity, what it means and what can be done to prevent its decline. Of the 1,000 Irish people surveyed: – 51% had never heard of biodiversity while 28% think that biodiversity loss in Ireland, as opposed to globally, is a very serious problem here.
“To-date, we have failed to reduce or halt biodiversity loss. Now, in the International Year of Biodiversity, it is time for us all to take stock and put in place the plans that will protect our biodiversity for the future,” Ms O’Brien states.
According to the Heritage Council, there is a need for a new National Biodiversity Action Plan that sets out a vision for protecting the environment across government departments.
The council also says there is a need to increase public awareness of the importance of biodiversity and how it serves the populations’ needs by, for instance, providing clean water, fibre for clothes and bees for pollinating our food.
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