PLANET AMBASSADORS

For participants age 15 to 18

This year we want to invite you to partake in this new category. We seek to join forces, reflections and ideas to improve our processes, actions, and close circles in an efficient way. We want to learn from you, be inspired by your thoughts and your voice when you speak of Biodiversity.

The Living Planet Report, WWF’s flagship publication released every two years, is a comprehensive study of trends in global biodiversity and the health of the planet. The Living Planet Report 2018 is the twelfth edition of the report and provides the scientific evidence to what nature has been telling us repeatedly: unsustainable human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge.

Source: World Wildlife Fund for Nature. https://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/all_publications/living_planet_report_2018/.

Forests are home to 80% of the world’s biodiversity on land.

One square kilometer of forest may be home to more than 1,000 species. The most biologically diverse and complex forests on Earth are tropical rain forests, such as the Amazon.

The ocean covers more than two-thirds of our living planet’s surface

and is home to a spectacular array of ecosystems and wildlife. About 90% of life in the ocean is found in the shallow seas close to the coasts.

Less than 1% of the world’s water is fresh and accessible

yet freshwater habitats such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands are home to more than 10% of all known animals and almost 50% of all known fish species.

One-quarter of all life on Earth can be found beneath our feet.

Soil biodiversity consists of a huge underground community of life-forms such as fungi, bacteria, nematodes, tardigrades, ants, termites, earthworms, moles, and many more. These species play a huge role in helping reduce the effects of climate change by regulating greenhouse gases, as well as cycling nutrients through the ground so that they may be used by plants. Without these underground workers, entire ecosystems would crumble. Soil biodiversity is currently facing many threats, including pollution, agriculture, and erosion.

Humans have only been around for 200,000 years, a tiny fraction of the 4.5 billion years of our planet’s history. Yet we have had a greater impact on the Earth than any other species.

As humans continue to put pressure on the planet, we are upsetting the balance of ecosystems and losing biodiversity. Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. Wetlands are most affected, having lost 87% of their coverage in the past era.

Biodiversity is declining faster than ever. Although the world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living creatures, humanity has already caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants.

Almost 20% of the Amazon rain forest, one of the most biologically diverse places in the world, has disappeared in the past 50 years.

Populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles have declined by 60% in just over 40 years because of human activity such as overharvesting and illegal hunting of animals, agriculture, and land conversion/degradation of habitats.

Around 1 million animal and plant species—more than ever before in human history—are now threatened with extinction. This includes 40% of all amphibians, 25% of mammals, 34% of conifers, 14% of birds, 31% of sharks and rays, 33% of reef corals, and 27% of crustaceans.

The current rate of species extinction is 100 to 1,000 times higher than nature intended.

Forest fires in Indonesia released 709 million tons of CO2 last year – equivalent to Cnadas’s entire annual emission of greenhouse gases

25% of fish species rely on coral reefs for a least part of their life cycle 70% of agricultural land used is accounted for by the livestock sector

Coral reefs provide vital protection from coastal flooding and storm surges losing just the top layer of coral could result in $4 billion more in flood damages per year.

Biodiversity is resilient

If humans reduce the pressure we’re putting on the planet and manage resources better, in time, ecosystems will adapt.

Nature and biodiversity will recover

Why is BIODIVERSITY so important

Provide for us

Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive. Food, raw materials, freshwater, and medicine come from nature. Nature is responsible for replenishing the freshwater that underpins all agriculture and economic activity. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Medicinal Plants Specialist Group estimates that there are between 50,000 and 70,000 known medicinal and aromatic plants used by humans for medicine or other purposes. Engineers and designers also study wildlife and develop improvements to current technology, such as the means of communication and sources of renewable energy, based on practices observed in nature (called biomimicry).

Control natural processes

Nature, under normal conditions, is capable of taking care of itself. It is responsible for regulating air quality, climate, water, erosion, waste treatment, pollination, and disease.

Nature also moderates extreme weather events such as hurricanes and blizzards. Rain forests breathe moisture into the atmosphere: that moisture is then transformed into rain that waters crops thousands of miles away. Wetlands are responsible for filtering water and recharging aquifers, providing us with plenty of healthy, clean water. Healthy, natural systems can help reduce the damage caused by rising sea levels, extreme rainfall, and the higher incidence of frequent droughts and storms, all caused by climate change. But when natural habitats like forests and wetlands get destroyed, greenhouse gases are released, making climate change more intense

Support from the ground up

In order to provide essentials such as food and water, nature has to first support the basis for all life.

This includes enabling healthy soil to take shape and allowing photosynthesis and plant growth to occur. The soil is responsible for the cycling of nutrients through the ground, on which the health of all ecosystems depends. Pollinators such as bees and butterflies help continue the process of allowing soil and plants to provide for us. About 87% of all flowering plant species are pollinated by animals, and crops that are pollinated by animals account for 35% of global food production.

Offer cultural benefits

Nature has proven effects on our mental and physical health, provides recreation and ecotourism, and supports spiritual and religious beliefs. Research shows that being in natural areas improves our physical well-being, and there is growing evidence to show that spending time in nature can also help maintain and promote psychological well-being.

“Place your hands into soil to feel grounded. Wade in water to feel emotionally healed. Fill your lungs with fresh air to feel mentally clear. Raise your face to the heat of the sun and connect with that fire to feel your own immense power”

Threats to Biodiversity

The greatest threat to biodiversity is human activity. We have overfished the oceans, cleared forests, polluted our water sources, and caused climate crises.

Overharvesting and agriculture continue to have the most dramatic impact on biodiversity. Over the past 50 years, our consumption of natural resources has increased by about 190%.

Agriculture

Changing the environment where a species lives is a huge threat to biodiversity. This can happen in a few different ways: completely removing the habitat (such as happens with deforestation), fragmenting the habitat (such as by building dams through rivers), or degrading the habitat (such as by damaging the soil quality). Agriculture is still the number one driver of habitat loss in forests and grasslands. The growing human population and increasing demand for food increase pressure to convert forests and grasslands to farms and pastures. More than one-third of the world’s land surface is currently dedicated to agriculture.

As habitats disappear and the health of the remaining habitat declines, the plants and animals living within are critically impacted. Even a minimal amount of habitat loss can have devastating effects on biodiversity, particularly in tropical rain forests. Rain forests are home to more species—many of which are rare and endangered—than any other land habitat. Large areas of these forests have been cleared to grow palm oil, an ingredient used in packaged products all over the world. This conversion of rain forest fragments the habitat and threatens the survival of many plant and animal populations.

This shift to agriculture has also affected the quality of soil in many parts of the world. Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the past 150 years. This has had a domino effect on all the species relying on soil and what grows in that soil to survive. It has led to the decline of bees and other insects that help pollinate 75% of the food crops we grow.

Overharvesting

To overharvest or overexploit a resource means that you are using it excessively and to a damaging degree. Currently, humans are implementing these harmful practices in natural areas all over the world, including oceans and forests. When fishing vessels catch fish faster than the fish can reproduce and replenish their populations, it’s called overfishing.

Overfishing is one of the most significant factors in the decline in ocean wildlife populations. According to the latest data available, 33% of assessed marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels and 60% were fully fished, meaning these populations are likely unable to withstand an increase in fishing. This left only 7% of fish stocks able to support greater catches. Almost 6 billion tons of fish and invertebrates have been taken from the world’s oceans since 1950. Fish are a part of many marine food webs, so by depleting the ocean of its fish, we’re impacting all the species that depend on fish to survive. Overfishing is also closely connected to bycatch—the accidental capture of sea life while fishing for a different species. Bycatch has caused countless unintended deaths of fish, sea turtles, sharks, and dolphins. Bycatch is the leading threat to whales and dolphins around the world, estimated to cause at least 300,000 deaths per year.

Forests are also at risk, impacted by illegal and unsustainable logging usually as a result of the global demand for inexpensive wood and paper products. This illegal removal of timber causes the health of the forests to decline as vegetation is damaged, rivers are polluted, and the stability of the soil weakens.

Climate Change

Changes in climate and extreme weather events are already affecting biodiversity across the globe. Life cycles of certain species (such as flowering plants) are being altered, impacting the other members of the ecosystem that depend on them. Species’ migrations and breeding seasons also fluctuate, as they are often climate-dependent. The availability of food and water is shrinking, creating more competition. As winters get warmer and shorter, pests and diseases spread. The increased ocean temperatures have caused coral reefs to expel the algae they depend on to survive, which results in the corals turning white (bleaching) and often dying. Coral reefs are some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, and as they become bleached, they’re no longer able to support all the species that rely on them for food and habitat. In just three years, around 75% of the world’s tropical coral reefs experienced heat stress severe enough to trigger bleaching, and 30% of these corals died. 

The effects of climate change are being felt at the poles twice as fast as on the rest of the planet. Sea ice helps protect our planet by reflecting much of the sun’s energy back into space, helping regulate climate. With greenhouse gases trapping heat within our atmosphere, the sea ice is melting, causing less of the sun’s energy to be reflected back into space and more to be absorbed into the ocean. This warming ocean only contributes to the melting of the sea ice, creating a cycle of melting and warming that accelerates sea level rise. Sea ice not only helps protect us by acting as a sun shield, but also provides essential habitat and feeding grounds for species such as polar bears and walruses. The ice also supports the growth of tiny algae, which are the base of the food web and the source of food for fish and krill. As our planet continues to heat up, the sea ice will continue to disappear, as will the species that depend on it. 

Poor water quality and scarcity 

All life on land needs fresh water. Unfortunately, pressures from humans such as water overuse/misuse and pollution are contributing to the decline in quality and quantity of the fresh water that we all depend on. Agriculture uses the highest percentage of fresh water (nearly 70%) and is the leading source of pollution in many countries. Use of pesticides and fertilizers on farms can poison the air and soil, as well as the fresh water that leads into marine ecosystems, decreasing biodiversity everywhere. In addition to this chemical runoff pollution, plastic pollution is also a threat to biodiversity. Plastics have been found from shorelines and surface waters all the way down to the deepest parts of the ocean, including the bottom of the Mariana Trench. According to scientists, plastic particles can be found in 90% of the world’s seabirds. 

Freshwater habitats are also being impacted by dams that are disconnecting rivers, creating a buildup of sediment that causes waterways to clog and prevents fish and other aquatic species from migrating and reproducing. Freshwater ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and wetlands provide habitat for more than 125,000 species. These ecosystems also provide us with water to drink and to grow food, so it is essential for them to remain free-flowing and healthy. Increasing human populations result in growing demand and pressure on our fresh water. With more people impacting their watery homes, freshwater species are declining at an alarming rate. 

Wildlife trade 

Poaching wildlife for illegal trade is an urgent threat facing hundreds of the world’s most beloved species, such as elephants, rhinos, and tigers. These animals are illegally hunted for their fur, tusks, horns, bones, and other parts. Illegally obtained animal parts and products are trafficked by international criminal networks, much like illegal drugs and weapons. This business continues to skyrocket due to an increasing demand, particularly in Asia where these animal parts are often seen as a status symbol and used in medicine or carved into trinkets. In addition to elephants, rhinos, and tigers, countless other species such as sea turtles, pangolins, birds, reptiles, primates, and timber trees are similarly illegally exploited.

Infokits and Resources from our Game Changers publications

Multimedia

Biodiversity Loss – A Documentary
The Documentaries

Watch till the end. (HD)
A documentary by grade 10 students from MSU-IIT IDS.
Bianca Maureen Cruz, Michaela Apilat, Daphney Babia, Earl Andrew Ruelo, Edjul Lorejo

What future is there for global biodiversity?
pblleefomgeving

What is happening to life on earth? What are the pressures affecting biological diversity globally, and what can be done to stop its decline? A new short animated film by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency brings you to the year 2050 and shows you the future is not fixed: choices we as society make today will determine what the world will look like in decades time.

5 Ecosystems Thriving in the Least Likely Places
SciShow

Around the world, living things have managed to build truly extraordinary ecosystems in some of the last places you would think to look. Understanding these ecosystems can help us protect or repair them, and it can also help us appreciate how incredibly resilient and creative living things can be.
Hosted by: Hank Green

Why is biodiversity so important? – Kim Preshoff
TED-Ed

Our planet’s diverse, thriving ecosystems may seem like permanent fixtures, but they’re actually vulnerable to collapse. Jungles can become deserts, and reefs can become lifeless rocks. What makes one ecosystem strong and another weak in the face of change? Kim Preshoff details why the answer, to a large extent, is biodiversity.

How dead is the Great Barrier Reef?
Vox

Coral bleaching is the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. But it’s too early for obituaries.

Learning to protect biodiversity
UNESCO

A video showing how to address biodiversity through Education for Sustainable Development and mobilise teachers, students, researchers and decision-makers to reflect on biodiversity issues and their interdependence with global sustainable development issues.

Use your imagination
and create an Art piece based on,

“WHAT BIODIVERSITY MEANS TO YOU”

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