International Environment month is going now. From the beginning of the world, whatever has been the most impactful part of our world is its biodiversity. From then till today, its impact is so huge that no one can even feel its depth and complexity. So to utilize a little of that and our sins, it’s important for us to go through a analysis.
Biodiversity or Biological diversity is a term that describes the variety of living beings on earth. In short, it is described as a degree of variation of life. Biological diversity encompasses microorganisms, plants, animals, and ecosystems, such as coral reefs, forests, rainforests, deserts, etc.
And after going through and analysis, I’ve found us as the most shameless livings on the earth and it let me feel sorry, very very sorry for some days. In this series, I’ll try to touch there in your heart so that you can also feel sorry, be aware. There will be 4 parts of the document and I’ve also tried to create a map of our duties and responsibilities and so I hope every readers will be with us in each part. Carefully, understanding.
One study looked at the direct impacts of air pollutants by placing birds in cages close to a working coal-fired power plant. The pollutants in the power plant emissions included nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide and were shown to have negative effects in the bird’s respiratory system.
Other studies dating back as far as the 1950s have found consistent adverse health effects on birds from air pollutants including a decrease in the success of egg-laying and changes in behaviour.
Air pollution has also been shown to have direct impacts on mammal species in cities where levels are high. A study in Sao Paulo, Brazil found that reproductive success of mice decreased when left in cages in polluted areas of the city.
If these impacts are observed on these groups of animals it is reasonable to predict air pollution will have adverse effects on others too. This is likely to have consequences for biodiversity as a whole as food chain systems are disrupted.
Indirect impacts of air pollution on biodiversity are harder to measure accurately as they are harder to test under controlled conditions over a long period of time.
When two common air pollutants, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide combine with water in the atmosphere it forms a weak acid. When it rains this rain is acidic and is referred to as ‘acid rain’.
The effects of acid rain on biodiversity are clearest to see in rivers, lakes and other aquatic habitats.
More acidic water has been linked to increased mucus build up in the gills of fish. This means they can’t absorb as much oxygen causing the fish to suffocate.
Other studies have found decreased microbial activity in soils which have been exposed to acid rain.
If the smallest lifeforms are impacted, this is likely to have impacts all the way up the food chain.
Much of life on earth spends either all or some of its time in the water. Whether that is a small stream, a lake or the ocean. With humans being land-based animals you’d think the water would be a safe place to be….but unfortunately not. Humans have found several ways to pollute all types of natural water bodies, all of which are likely to have negative impacts on biodiversity.
Nitrogen and Phosphorus pollution
Nitrogen and phosphorus are common pollutants when they end up in rivers, lakes and other waterbodies. These pollutants originate primarily from chemical fertilizers and manure that are applied to fields to increase crop growth. Any of the nitrogen and phosphorus that isn’t absorbed by the crop plants ends up being washed away into various waterways or it finds it’s way into groundwater.
The livestock sector is responsible for the majority of this pollution, in Europe 73% of water pollution from these sources can be attributed to livestock production.
It should come as no surprise that these nutrients not only make plants on land grow but they cause much more rapid growth of plants in the water. This, in turn, leads to a process known as ‘eutrophication‘, where this excessive aquatic plant growth starts to have adverse effects. 54% of all lakes in Asia are now eutrophic.
These new conditions are not good for thriving biodiversity. The new plants cause an increase in oxygen levels in the day but when night falls microorganisms in the water feast on the plant matter and cause a dramatic decrease in oxygen. This is not good news for fish and other animals such as shrimp which need this dissolved oxygen to breathe, many of which then die off in what are referred to as ‘dead zones’.
If not applied in the correct manner, pesticides can end up in watercourses via similar pathways to the fertilizers mentioned above.
Studies back in the mid-90s revealed that 90% of water and fish samples from waters in the USA contained one or more
pesticides. Chlorpyrifos is a common contaminant in urban streams and is toxic to fish US. Other pesticides such as trifluralin and glyphosate which are common in everyday garden weed killers might not directly kill fish but they can lessen the chance of survival which can impact population as a whole.
The impacts of pesticides on biodiversity tend to be worse for non- flowing waterbodies such as ponds and lakes where the substances aren’t washed away and where wildlife can’t re-populate areas as easily.
Heavy metal pollution of water can originate from many sources, from mining, to cars, to cement production. Heavy metals include metals such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium which all have the characteristic of not breaking down easily once in the environment.
These metals have been found to have impacts on fish species impacting behaviour and survival rates.
Oil enters the water from many sources but it has the biggest impacts on wildlife during a large ‘oil spill’ event.
This is usually when oil is being transported in a ship across the ocean and somehow spills a large amount of the load, causing havoc on the impacted ecosystem.
Whilst it is the birds and larger animals that show the most visible effects of such an event, scientists suggest the greater impacts on biodiversity are caused by the adverse effects on life in the deeper oceans.
- suffocation caused by physical blockage of ar passages and gills.
- disrupting senses so animals are unable to find food or detect predators
- internal damage from the toxic effects of oil including damage to vital organs
- reduced growth rates and higher mortality of larvae.
Plastic pollution has become one of the most talked about forms of pollution in recent years, mainly due to the obvious visible impacts it has.
Plastic is an amazing product due to the fact it can be molded into virtually any shape and doesn’t break down for a very long time.
But for this reason, once it gets into the environment as a form of pollution it persists for a very long time, impacting wildlife.
Although plastic originates on land it finds its way into rivers and eventually the ocean as it is blown into storm drains or washed away in flood events.
Groups of animals particularly vulnerable to plastics include turtles, particularly young individuals that consume the plastics and are then unable to regurgitate them leading to internal injuries and often death.
Seabirds are also particularly vulnerable. One study found 40% of Laysan albatross chicks were dying before fledging the nest. During the examination of the bodies after death, it was found the majority had consumed plastic waste.
Plastics do gradually break down, but these smaller fragments (known as microplastics) can be equally dangerous.
One study on sea urchins found that the toxic effects of microplastics was causing less larvae to survive. (9)
A variety of other studies have blamed microplastics for impacts on other species including decreased food consumption and weight loss. (10) (11)
Transport of invasive species
Finally, plastics that float through the oceans can act like ‘rafts’ for species to be transported vast distances.
This means that species that are not native to a particular area can be introduced to a habitat and outcompete the native species, impacting the local biodiversity. (12)
The impacts of plastics on biodiversity as a whole is an area of ongoing research. But we can imply from effects on certain species (as mentioned above) that this will eventually have consequences for global biodiversity.
Heavy metal pollution doesn’t just affect aquatic habitats and also gets into soils where it stays for a very long time.
These heavy metals can impact the health of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi which are essential for life to thrive.
Plants do require some of these metals in low amounts but in high quantities, negative impacts are observed. The metals are absorbed from the soil and can’t be broken down by the plants.
Fertilizers, pesticide and antibiotics from animal waste can end up in the soil particularly since agriculture has become industrialized and more intensive.
Excessive nitrogen from fertilizers can alter soil nutrient levels and pH. Soils where crops have been grown or adjacent become much more nutrient-rich and acidic. Higher nutrient levels encourage the growth of more robust grass species, which often stifles the growth of wildflowers, important for bees and other pollinating insects. This has impacts on biodiversity as a whole.
Pesticides, although heavily regulated in many areas of the world, are less well regulated in other areas.
‘Light’ might not be the first type of pollution that comes to mind when someone mentions the subject, but artificial light can have negative impacts on biodiversity.
A large number of animals have evolved to be nocturnal. Hunting or moving around under the cover of complete darkness, with only the light from the moon or stars. But humans have filled the night skies with artificial lights as they aim to extend their functional hours. This has lead to street lights on every highway, lights from office buildings glaring and car headlights beaming.
Bats are one group of species that are known to be adversely affected by light pollution. Bats are very nocturnal, very rarely emerging in the light. Bat feeding activity was found to dramatically decrease and the emergence from roosts was delayed when artificial lighting was nearby. This reduces the amount of time the bats have to forage for food and pushes the bats into smaller areas of habitat where they have increased competition from other individuals.
Streetlights were also found to impact moth behavior. Moths are not only important prey for other species but they are important pollinators of many plant species too.
In one study of nocturnal insects in alpine meadows, abundance of species fell by 62%.
As light pollution has increased with human numbers and increased urbanization so has noise pollution from various sources.
One study found traffic noise from a motorway was having a negative effect on the success of birds in noisier areas where females began laying less eggs as it masks the important territorial calls birds make.
A collation of various studies into the impacts of noise on animals found that negative impacts start at noise levels as low as 50dBA, which is the equivalent volume of an everyday conversation!
The sound from machinery at a mining site in Brazil was found to impact wildlife. Species numbers declined at sites nearer the mine and were higher further away.
Poaching: Every day we are losing hundreds of mammals belonging in endangerous species. This is mostly due to the lack of enforcement as well as the corupt goverments in the surrounding area. This can be seen in the developing countries that do not see the enforcement of poaching a nessicity. Eventhough we cannot see it presently, poaching does have long term effects. Poaching is detrimental to the ecosystem, and actually can hurt your economy. We are inhabitants of this great planet, and its our responsibility to sustain it. And we only get one.
“At the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos; in 1970 there were 70,000; today, there are fewer than 29,000 rhinos surviving in the wild (“Rhino Population Figures”).” Poaching is the practice of killing or trading animals for economic gain or necessity and has resulted in substantial losses of many species throughout developing countries and throughout time. Every year more and more species are killed and sold in the black market for a quick profit; some of the effects include economic downfall or ecological instability and destruction. The major causes and effects of poaching need to be prevented through implementation.
There are many causes for poaching. For one thing, poaching is hard to regulate and law enforcement is susceptible to bribery, making poaching an easy crime. For example, Lovejoy Sakala, a reporter of the Zimbabwean, stated that “Top police are conniving with poachers. They are taking bribes and not doing much to stop these illegal activities.” Then there are many people who are so desperate for money and must poach to provide for their families. To continue, bushmeat, food derived from hunted wild animals, has long been a staple part of forest peoples’ diet and since the 1900s they have increased eight-fold as an easy way to get food and survive (“Bushmeat”). Also, as demonstrated in 2008, African ivory, exotic birds, pelts, and tiger bone wine due to online transactions amounted to an extraordinary 3.8 million dollars;
poaching was turning into a profitable business (Donovan). Some people have religious obligations and traditions that involve rare animals. A group of Tibetan monks illegally obtain or hunt rare creatures due to religious obligations (McLachlan). As one can see, causes of poaching are done for many reasons, such as food, religion, money, and even lack of enforcement.
The many causes of poaching create negative effects, mainly in the environment and economy. One negative effect on the environment can be seen with the decline in the tiger population.
According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, tigers are in imminent danger of extinction. Tigers are a keystone predator, which means they help to keep the local prey populations under control, thus keeping the entire ecosystem balanced. The decrease in tigers will result in negative environmental effects, because large-scale growth of prey animal populations will influence the rest of the food chain.
Without a keystone predator, its prey will grow exponentially. The large population of prey animals will consume all of the producers (plants), which will retard the growth of the ecosystem (Pedersen.
A recent study conducted by Austin J. Gallagher and Dr. Neil Hammershlag of the R. J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami discussed negative effects on the economy due to poaching. They examined the problem of overfishing sharks and the effects on ecotourism, a sector which many developing nations rely on. The results of the study indicated that a single reef shark will net approximately 73.00-dollars a day in ecotourism, while that same reef shark will net a fisherman only about 50.00- dollars one time for the sale of its fins. With an almost increase of 50 percent in profit, developing countries are losing major money that can be used to actually help their population. Ecotourism is excellent industry for developing nations, but the industry cannot function without living animals (Pedersen).
Over-fishing: Put simply, overfishing occurs when more fish are caught then are able to reproduce to repopulate. Because fishing has long been an industry used by humans, there are a number of reasons why it is a problem today. Some of the causes of overfishing include:
Difficulties in regulating fishing areas due to lack of resources and tracking activity.
Most areas in the world have a total lack of oversight related to their fishing industry, which means the practices and activities of fishing fleets are not or barely monitored.
In international waters, there are little to no rules regarding fishing practices, which means fishing fleets can bypass areas that do have regulations.
Problems with customs and importation where the provenance of fish is not questioned, leading to surreptitious practices such as calling one kind of fish something else.
Many countries have subsidies for fishermen which keeps their number higher than it needs to be (it is estimated that there are 2 ½ times more fleets than needed).
Fishing areas are largely unprotected – only a little over 1.5% of oceans have been declared protective areas, and most of these are still open to fishermen. This means that areas can be harmed or depleted.
So, there are many causes behind overfishing:
- Poor Fisheries Management
The fishing industry has long been weighed down by a lack of management oversight and proper government regulations.
Traceability of fishing activities has been a great challenge as well.
The rules and regulations we have today have proven to be ineffective when it comes to limiting fishing capacity to sustainable levels. And the high seas are the most affected.
Namely, there are insufficient fishing regulations in the high seas. And the existing regulations are normally not enforced. Most fisheries management organs lack the capacity to adequately apply scientific advice of fish quotas.
Moreover, customs agencies and fish retailers can’t always ascertain the fish coming into their country is caught through proper channels.
- Unsustainable Fishing
Unsustainable fishing encompasses the use of nets, fishing methods and other fishing gear that catch so much fish to a level that they are endangered.
It may also involve catching other sea creatures other than fish in the process. The unwanted animals are called By-catch. And they are normally destroyed and discarded into the sea, hence the name Discards.
Discards may include turtles, cetaceans, young fish, sharks, corals, and seabirds. Invertebrates such as crabs, starfish, brittle stars, sea urchins, sponges, mollusks, and warms could also be caught, destroyed, and thrown back into the sea.
Some fishermen also catch tiny fishes, depriving them of the opportunity to grow and reproduce.
- Illegal and Unregulated Fishing Activities
Illegal fishing activities include poaching, taking more than the allowed amount of catch, and fishing out of season. According to WWF, illegal fishing accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s catch and up to 50 percent in some fisheries.
Unregulated fishing practices that result in grave harm include by- catch (as explained in the previous point) and Trawling. Trawling involves scraping along the bottom of the sea to gather fish. This practice is one of the major causes of destruction to marine habitats.
- Economic and Food Needs
Market availability and consumer demands are the major factors that determine the amount of fish that fishing companies bring ashore.
In the last 100 years, human population has increased in many folds. This has, in turn, pushed the need for food and fish up significantly. Coupled with economic aspirations of fishing industries, these factors have compelled fishers to catch more fish than the seas can replace.
- Government Subsidies
Many governments around the world continue to subsidize their fishing equipment. This allows unprofitable fishing entities to survive, eventually leading to overfishing. Today, fishing fleet across the globe is estimated to be up to 250 percent of the actual capacity needed to catch what the world needs.
- Open Access Fisheries
The ‘open access’ nature of fisheries is another major problem of overfishing. In light of the fact that there are no or limited property rights, fishermen lack the motivation to leave fish in the water.
Moreover, only about 1.5 percent of water bodies have been declared protected areas. And most of those areas still remain accessible to fishermen, exposing them to destruction and depletion.
Overfishing impacts biodiversity in more ways than one — per Marine Science Today, overfishing alters the food chain. If a certain species is wiped out due to overfishing, the animals that rely on that species as a food source could starve, or might resort to eating other species of fish, thus altering the ecosystem and food chain as a whole.
On the other end of the spectrum, the population generally consumed by the extinct species would grow disproportionately, often making way for an influx of pests. Overfishing creates a domino effect that impacts all living organisms, therefore significantly affecting biodiversity.
“Overfishing cannot continue,” warned Nitin Desai, Secretary General of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place in Johannesburg. “The depletion of fisheries poses a major threat to the food supply of millions of people.” The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation calls for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which many experts believe may hold the key to conserving and boosting fish stocks. Yet, according to the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) World Conservation Monitoring Centre, in Cambridge, UK, less than one per cent of the world’s oceans and seas are currently in MPAs. The magnitude of the problem, however, is often overlooked, given the competing claims of deforestation, desertification, energy resource exploitation and other biodiversity depletion dilemmas. In part, there is often little focus on the rapid growth of demand for fish and fish products, both domestically and in export markets, leading to fish prices increasing faster than prices of meat. As a result, fisheries investments have become more attractive to both entrepreneurs and governments, much to the detriment of small- scale fishing and fishing communities all over the world. In the last decade, in the north Atlantic region, commercial fish populations of cod, hake, haddock and flounder have fallen by as much as 95%, prompting calls for urgent measures. Some are even recommending zero catches to allow for regeneration of stocks, much to the ire of the fishing industry. According to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate, over 70% of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. The dramatic increase of destructive fishing techniques worldwide destroys marine mammals and entire ecosystems. FAO reports that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing worldwide appears to be increasing as fishermen seek to avoid stricter rules in many places in response to shrinking catches and declining fish stocks. Few, if any, developing countries and only a limited number of developed ones are on track to put into effect by this year the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. Despite that fact that each region has its Regional Sea Convention, and some 108 governments and the European Commission have adopted the UNEP Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land based Activities, oceans are cleared at twice the rate of forests. The Johannesburg forum stressed the importance of restoring depleted fisheries and acknowledged that sustainable fishing requires partnerships by and between governments, fishermen, communities and industry. It urged countries to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea and other instruments that promote maritime safety and protect the environment from marine pollution and environmental damage by ships. Only a multilateral approach can counterbalance the rate of depletion of the world’s fisheries which has increased more than four times in the past 40 years.
(To be continued….)