A very knowledgeable Havard biology professor once proclaimed of ants that “we need them to survive but they don’t need us at all”. So wise. And not just true of ants, but of the smorgasbord of insects, bacteria, fungi, plankton, plants, mammals, reptiles, birds and other organisms that live with us homo sapiens. Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten this basic truth, and humanity continues to push thousands of species and ecosystems towards extinction, disrupting the life-saving services they provide us.
The marine realm is much larger than the terrestrial realm; the Pacific Ocean alone would be able to accommodate all the continents and have enough space for a second Australia. Marine and coastal ecosystems, like all ecosystems, are intricate webs of complex interactions between macro and microscopic species of plants, animals and fungi that depend on each other to survive. Coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, rocky shores and beaches are all examples of marine and coastal ecosystems. Over and above being sources of rich biodiversity, these ecosystems provide integral benefits to mankind including food, as climate regulators, and in protection from natural disasters. In short, the services they provide sustain all life on this planet. The need for their conservation is commonly emphasized in the context of their providing a greater sum value of services than terrestrial ecosystems.
Yet, paradoxically, we are unwinding the fabric of marine life with our everyday actions, through unsustainable fishing practices, unregulated disposal of our sewage and other pollutants, and actions that effectuate changes to the climate. Every time we loose a gene, species or ecosystem, it disappears forever, robbing us of the services it could have rendered us. Every time we destroy an ecosystem, we cannot fully restore it, no matter how much money we are willing to spend. Every time we loose an ecosystem service we threaten our own lives.
The implications of these threats to our natural ecosystems have been, for a while now, living in my head rent-free. The fact that remains is that in the decades to come Planet Earth will remain standing, but can we say the same of our species? Our irresponsible stewardship of this planet and its natural resources may render us the only species to wipe itself out.