Life in balance: The vital role of biodiversity

About 75 percent of our land and 66 percent of our marine systems have been significantly altered by human activities.
Life in balance: The vital role of biodiversity

Biodiversity is more important than most people realize. It supports ecological processes that sustain all life on Earth. Without the Earth’s vast reserve of animals, plants, and microorganisms, we would not have the healthy ecosystems we heavily rely on for the air we breathe and the food we eat. Beyond this, biodiversity serves us in another way that is often overlooked and unappreciated by most — it helps us in the fight against climate change.

Land and marine ecosystems like our oceans and forests absorb half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that we emit. By capturing greenhouse gasses, our peatlands, wetlands, soils, forests, and oceans directly limit the rise of global temperature, thereby aiding in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and reduction of climate change effects. However, with the rapid acceleration of climate change effects coupled with unsustainable and ecologically damaging human activities, Earth’s biodiversity is being pushed to the edge.

According to the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 75 percent of our land and 66 percent of our marine systems have been significantly altered by human activities. This makes them unsuitable habitats for millions of animal and plant species. Over a million animal species globally are now threatened with extinction, and if we don’t do something, more will be added to the list. The report cites climate change, pollution, changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of animals, and invasive alien species as among the top reasons for global biodiversity and habitat loss.

Despite being one of the 18 mega-biodiverse countries in the world, the Philippines has over 700 threatened species, making the country a top global conservation area. The latest list of threatened Philippine animal species includes more than 60 animal species. Critically endangered species are those facing extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Meanwhile, over 61 species have been listed as endangered, meaning they are likely to become critically endangered in the near future if habitat loss continues without intervention.

The majority of habitat loss and endangerment of biodiversity in the Philippines is due to unsustainable and often illegal human activities, including illegal logging, mining, pollution, unmonitored sea and land-use conversion, and animal trafficking and poaching. Climate change-induced natural disasters also contribute much to the degradation of Philippine ecosystems, displacing and even killing many plants and animals.

As a tropical country, the Philippines relies greatly on biodiversity to sustain lives and livelihoods. Much of the water we consume comes from our rivers, coastal basins, and fresh-water lakes. Likewise, our staple foods, which consist mostly of crops and fish, are directly dependent on the state of our ecosystems. Current data suggests that our food and water security is dangerously impacted by the aggressive increase in temperature, sea level rise, sea acidity levels, and pollution.

Beyond food and water, the country relies heavily on its wilderness for pharmaceutical development. Currently, 83 species of plants and a wide variety of fungi are used to directly treat or formulate drugs for common illnesses such as cough, pain, and renal stones.

Like the rest of the world, the Philippines also rely greatly on biodiversity for the sequestration of carbon in the atmosphere. Home to 311,400 hectares of mangrove forests, 693,821 hectares of tree forests, 26,000 square kilometers of coral reef forests, and 314 accounted wetlands, the Philippines sequesters a great amount of greenhouse gas emissions through its ecosystems. The continuous decline in biodiversity does not just mean losing a great deal of our plant and animal species; it also means losing our capacity to absorb excess heat and carbon.

Recognizing the heavy implications of biodiversity loss, the Philippine government has included ecosystems and biodiversity as one of the eight key sector outcomes in its draft National Adaptation Plan (NAP). This makes Philippine biodiversity a priority area for adaptation efforts. The NAP identifies key strategies aimed at restoring, protecting, and preserving Philippine biodiversity through research and development, monitoring, policy implementation, and community involvement.

Furthermore, in the 2023 to 2028 Philippine Development Plan, biodiversity is given utmost importance. The plan includes strategies to improve and protect Philippine biodiversity through intensified ecosystem protection, rehabilitation, and management, as mandated by several pieces of legislation, including the Sustainable Forest Management Act, the Land Administration Reform Act, and the Integrated Coastal Management Act.

More than government intervention, the protection of our biodiversity is a responsibility that rests on all of us. Every individual, regardless of their age, status, or background, can make a lasting impact by adopting sustainable practices, supporting conservation efforts, and spreading awareness about the vitality of preserving our planet’s tapestry of life. Whether it’s through reducing waste, planting native species, managing our waste properly, or simply educating others, every action, no matter how insignificant it may seem, counts. Let us all commit to doing our part in protecting our biodiversity, ensuring a healthy and vibrant ecosystem for future generations.

Daily Tribune