Message from the Secretary General on the occasion of the International Day for Biodiversity


Gland, 22 May 2010 | In 2002 governments of the world established the target of, by 2010, significantly reducing the rate of loss of biodiversity. 22nd May is the International Day for Biodiversity and 2010 is the International Year for Biodiversity so it is no surprise that the global environmental community has made a special effort to focus on biodiversity, its current state and future fate. Whether we look at biodiversity at the species or ecosystem level we can find some good news here and there but the majority of the reports we read reach the same conclusion. Our diverse ecosystems and species are largely in decline and it is mostly at the hand of humankind.

For our World Wetlands Day campaign on the 2nd February this year, we focused on wetland biodiversity and climate change providing an opportunity to look at the impact of the many human-induced drivers of biodiversity loss in wetlands, a source of much concern to the Ramsar Convention, and the additional threat to species and ecosystems of climate change, a phenomenon that will cause concern for decades to come and often results in direct impacts on countries and their economies.

Does the loss of a few species and the decline in health of our ecosystems matter so much? Yes, but only if we are able to place a true value of the ecosystem services – the benefits to people – that they provide. The ecosystem services from wetlands – such as water, fish, groundwater recharge, water purification and waste treatment, flood control, storm protection etc., are essential for human survival. Undervaluing the services from ecosystems can lead to disastrous decision-making that degrades ecosystems and negatively impacts human well-being. In Thailand intact mangroves provide ecosystem services with a total net present economic value of at least 1,000 USD per hectare while mangroves converted to shrimp farms yield only USD 200. An ill-informed decision will undoubtedly impact local communities the most, especially the poorest, but ultimately poor decisions affect us all as wetland ecosystems and their species decline.

While threats and losses are evident across all ecosystems, globally, wetland ecosystems seem to be faring worse. Waterbirds, an excellent group of indicator species on wetland ecosystem health, are under threat with 41% of well-studied populations in decline; 38% of wetland mammals assessed are globally threatened, higher than the already worrisome 21% of threatened terrestrial mammals; 27% of coral-building species assessed are threatened; and at least 42% of amphibian species assessed are declining in population. The loss of a few flagship species is simply sad; a decline in health of ecosystems, their species and thus their ecosystem services of this order of magnitude is more than sad. It’s a long-term threat to human well-being.

So indeed let us join with the CBD to celebrate this International Day for Biological Diversity, let’s celebrate the beauty and splendor of our wetland species and ecosystems, but let’s not forget the challenges that lie ahead. As an environmental community we must do better at convincing everyone from governments to local communities that biological diversity belongs to us all and our survival as a species depends on it.

The Ramsar Secretariat

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