Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Celebrate the International Day of Biodiversity by Taking Action

“It is reckless to suppose that biodiversity can be diminished indefinitely without threatening humanity itself.”

–E.O. Wilson

Today, May 22, 2014 is the
International Day of Biodiversity which was established by the United Nations to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues year there is a different theme. Last year it was water and biodiversity.  This year it is island biodiversity.

Biodiversity is short for biological diversity meaning the variety of plants and animals or other living things on earth.  It is also used to describe the number and abundance of plants making up a natural area or ecosystem.  Therefore when biodiversity declines, individual species become extinct either regionally or globally.

Extinction of species is scarcely new in the history of the earth. There have been several significant episodes. The worst was about 245 million years ago when 96% of all species on earth became extinct.

Why is the extinction of plants and animals a concern?  It’s because ultimately the loss of biodiversity threatens human health and well-being. Biodiversity safeguards secure food supplies, protects against natural disasters, generates economic prosperity, and provides clean water and air – the list goes on and on.  Habitat destruction is a major threat to biodiversity. Most of us don’t own large tracts of land to protect. So what can we, as individuals, do?

Supporting biodiversity can be very similar to supporting local economies. Here in Portland Maine, a food co-op was established to allow for folks to buy in bulk from local farmers a decade or so ago.  Over time the number of co-op members has grown and the local farms supplying it have been able to grow in response to the increased demand generated by the coop.  Now the co-op is planning to open a store for the public which will in turn support more local farms. Local food is often healthier, so if larger numbers of people in the Portland area eat local food it may lead to reduced health care costs for both individuals and the local community.

But it’s possible to take this idea of supporting local farmers even further and think about eating foods that support biodiversity. Earlier this week I heard a discussion on a new book: Third Plate’ Reimagines Farm-To-Table Eating To Nourish The Land” on Morning Edition.  I found myself listening to a story about eating a diet of food that supports the land–for example, eating more legumes (beans) which puts nitrogen into the soil and eating less meat (raising livestock is often very land and resource intensive).  There are well-documented health benefits associated with this adjustment in diet.   During the interview the author of the new book, Dan Barber, described how in the South traditional cuisine supported a natural balance. Growing beans added nitrogen for growing rice.  Collards cleansed the soil of salt. A bit of pork was added because pigs roamed the forests – hence beans and rice, collards and a little pork encompassed an ecological balance from farm to table.  It’s an intriguing premise: that our approach to diet can help sustain the earth.  The food we eat and the amount of each kind of food we eat as well as the time of the year we eat it has an enormous impact on the land. And if food production does not lead directly to promoting biodiversity, it certainly supports an approach to farming and managing landscapes that can complement it.

So here are some thoughts on actions that can be taken by individuals to support biodiversity.

  1. Eat food grown locally.
  2. Grow your own food even if it’s just a small container garden.
  3. Eat foods that sustain and support a balanced ecology by eating a diversity of food and emphasizing eating foods that are ‘in season’.
  4. Have a discussion at the dinner table about where the food you are eating came from.  Think about how food choices can support biodiversity.
  5. Compost, and recycle to reduce the impact on the land.
  6. Grow native plants, avoid using pesticides and create small havens of biodiversity.
  7. Spend recreation dollars on activities that include exploring natural landscapes.  Travel to a national park.  Visit your local park. Go canoeing, hiking, and enjoy other outdoor activities.  Include family and friends.
  8. Write a letter to one or more elected officials, comment on a proposed rule or testify at a public meeting to let them know you care about an issue that supports biodiversity.
  9. Educate yourself and stay informed.
  10. Share your ideas with others.

For more information


California Biodiversity Council

International Island Biodiversity Day

Biodiversity: Extinction by numbers

Catastrophic Events in the History of Live: Toward a New Understanding of Mass Extinctions in the Fossil Record – Part II

Threats To Global Biodiversity

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

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