“The Lion King”? While the question may at first seem bizarre in what is quite clearly an environmental news platform, it is actually a relevant one cause the movie makes a very poignant case about what can happen to our natural environment if it is not properly managed and taken care of. No one who has seen “The Lion King” could forget the devastation of Pride Rock when Scar usurped the rightful king’s place and let hyenas rule the land depleting its natural resources. And while in real life no one actually thinks that a disgruntled lion would gang up with a pack of hyenas to destroy an ecosystem, this Disney classic hit the nail on the head highlighting the importance of balance and diversity for a healthy ecosystem.
The word biodiversity, a contraction of the terms “biological diversity”, beautifully captures a fundamental concept: life on this planet is extraordinarily diverse and complex. Our planet is inhabited by about eight million seven hundred thousand species (give or take 1.3 million) according to the most accurate calculation ever offered¹ and these species include animals, plants, fungi, protozoa and chromists such as water moulds and brown algae, which live across different marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems². Together, these species help run our planet. Without them – practically any one of them – important natural processes would cease delivering important ecosystem services such as water purification, pollination and carbon sequestration.
For example, we depend on pollination by insects, bats and birds for the production of over a third of the world’s food including many of the key crops which are nutritional staples – this ecosystem service alone is worth over US$ 200 billion per year³. Wetlands can help keep our waters clean, by removing 20 to 60% of metals from water, trap up to 90% of sediment from runoff and eliminate 70-90% of excessive nitrogen⁴. Similarly, one square kilometre of a coastal ecosystem can capture up to five times more carbon than the equivalent area of in a tropical forest and yet these coastal ecosystems are being destroyed 3-4 times faster, releasing carbon and contributing to climate change³. What is more, wild species such as bats, toads, birds and snakes are important in pest regulation whereas amphibians not only play a vital role in ecosystems, but they are also used in pharmaceutical research to discover new medicines³. There are therefore multiple ways in which our nature provides services to our society and economy as well as contributes more widely to the planet’s health which is a precondition for life on earth.
But the natural environment has an intrinsic value that goes beyond the price ascribed to the critical services it delivers. Part of that intrinsic value is reflected in the way some of our traditional ways of living are intertwined with nature. These are elements of our culture and heritage we actively seek to preserve and protect through different mechanisms of such as UNESCO protected sites. There is also a more personal way we experience the intrinsic value of nature. It is the personal connection we have with nature which no matter how short or fleeting it may be, is always a memorable one: the feeling of breathing fresh air on the seaside, marvelling at a forest or hillside in full bloom, seeing a rare bird or flower.
Continuing to enjoy the critical services and wider benefits our environment is predicated on maintaining its biodiversity. Modern societies thrive on diversity: ethnic diversity, cultural diversity but also diversity of talents, thinking and mentality. So isn’t it only logical to expect that our nature too thrives on diversity?