Living Planet Index - Biodiversity decline rings alarm bells

THE Zoological Society of London has compiled a horrifying report that should set alarm bells ringing all over the world.

Since 1970, between 25% and 33% of the world’s wildlife has been wiped out.

The Living Planet Index, compiled by the society in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), tracks the fortunes of almost 1,500 species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The index shows that overall numbers have declined by a massive 27% in the 35 years between 1970 and 2005.

We are witnessing one of the worst extinction rates in the history of the Earth. Pollution, urbanisation, farming, hunting and over-fishing are all to blame. The number of land-based species has declined by 25%, while marine life is down by 28% and freshwater species have been reduced by 29%.

Mankind is wiping out about 1% of other species of life annually. Even more frightening is the realisation that despite the warning signs, the decline has accelerated over the past decade. Some of the worst-hit marine species plunged by 28% from 1995 to 2005, while the population of ocean birds, which had been showing a positive trend from 1970 to the mid-1990s, plummeted by 30% in the same time.

The whole thing has frightening implications for our biodiversity, because the balance of nature is extremely important. The Chinese once concluded birds were eating so much grain that there would be more food for everyone if they killed as many birds as possible. But then they were plagued by insects, which caused much more damage than the birds.

Various creatures are being seriously threatened, especially tropical species, some of which have declined by as much as 46%. This can be partly attributed to the drop in numbers of those species whose natural habitat is in rainforests that are being cleared.

The marine fish index also remained fairly level until about 1990, but there has been a distinct decline since then. The victims are not just those specific animals or fish whose numbers have declined, but all of humanity as well.

The latest findings were released ahead of the Convention on Biodiversity, which is meeting in Bonn, Germany. The convention, which was signed in 1992, aims at stabilising the loss of species but the Zoological Society complains that governments have failed to take the necessary measures to achieve the goals set.

The reduction in biodiversity has serious implications for food supplies, which will become more vulnerable to pests, and the ensuing food shortages could affect millions of people.

“No one can escape the impact of biodiversity loss,” James Leape, director-general of the WWF, warned. “Reduced global diversity translates quite clearly into fewer new medicines, greater vulnerability to natural disasters and great effects from global warming.”

We are on notice and we must heed the warning.

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