Saving Planet Earth and its oceans
gruesome discovery of carcasses of 40 two-day old Tiger cubs in a Thai
temple known as the Tiger Temple has brought to the fore the huge spread
of the illegal trade in wildlife and animal parts. It is widely believed
that this was part of a ring that supplied animal body parts to shadowy
dealers in China for so-called medicinal purposes. Officials have now
removed most of the remaining living tigers from the premises.
Although the timing of this raid by Thai officials on the cusp of the
World Environment Day 2016 (June 5, today) is probably coincidental, the
chilling discovery was a timely reminder of the importance of this
year's WED theme - Zero tolerance for the illegal trade in wildlife.
The illegal trade in wildlife, live or dead and poaching erodes
precious biodiversity and threatens the survival of elephants, rhinos
and tigers, as well as many other species. It also undermines economies,
communities and security. This year's sub-slogan "Go Wild for Life"
encourages you to spread the word about wildlife crime and the damage it
does, and to challenge all those around you to do what they can to
According to the United Nations, the booming illegal trade in
wildlife products (despite the CITES framework banning such trade) is
eroding Earth's precious biodiversity, robbing us of our natural
heritage and driving whole species to the brink of extinction. The
International Union for the Conservation of nature (IUCN) Red List of
Endangered Species is growing bigger day by day, as human activities
challenge life on earth. The killing and smuggling of wild animals is
also undermining economies and whole ecosystems, fuelling organized
crime, and feeding corruption and insecurity across the globe.
Wildlife crime endangers elephants, rhinos, tigers, gorillas and sea
turtles. In Sri Lanka, we have witnessed the killing of majestic tuskers
for their tusks, although poaching and hunting are on the decline here.
(More tuskers and elephants die as a result of the human-elephant
conflict). In 2011, a subspecies of the Javan rhino went extinct in
Vietnam, while the last western black rhinos vanished from Cameroon the
Great apes have disappeared from Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin and
Togo, and other countries could follow. Some species such as snow
leopards are down to only dozens of individuals of reproductive age.
Lesser-known victims include helmeted hornbills and pangolins, as well
as wild orchids and timbers like Rosewood. Although we immediately think
of animals when we hear the term "life", the importance of plant
biodiversity should not be forgotten.
This year's World Environment Day celebrations are hosted by Angola,
a country seeking to restore its elephant herds, conserve Africa's
biodiversity-rich wildlife, and safeguard the environment as it
continues to rebuild after more than a quarter-century of war. Several
events will be held in Sri Lanka as well, which too underwent a conflict
period that affected wildlife in the country's North and the East.
"Angola is delighted to host World Environment Day, which will focus
on an issue close to our hearts," said Angolan Environment Minister
Maria de Fatima Jardim. "The illegal wildlife trade, particularly the
trade in ivory and rhino horn, is a major problem across our continent.
By hosting this day of celebration and awareness-raising, we aim to send
a clear message that such practices will soon be eradicated."
This week, it is not only the Earth that gets all the attention. Some
people argue that Planet Earth should actually be called Planet Ocean,
because our plant is covered by over 70 percent water. Indeed, the ocean
is the heart of our planet. They are a major source of food and
medicines and a critical part of the biosphere.
Yet, we know more about the surface of the Moon than the depths of
our oceans. Scientists estimate that millions more marine species are
waiting to be discovered in the deep fathoms of the oceans. As the UN
explains "like your heart pumping blood to every part of your body, the
ocean connects people across the Earth, no matter where we live. The
ocean regulates the climate, feeds millions of people every year,
produces oxygen, is the home to an incredible array of wildlife and
provides us with important medicines. In order to ensure the health and
safety of our communities and future generations, it is imperative that
we take the responsibility to care for the ocean as it cares for us."
It is in this context that coastal and even landlocked nations will
celebrate the World Ocean Day (WOD) on Wednesday, June 8. This year's
theme is "Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet" with a special effort to stop
plastic pollution of lakes, rivers and oceans. The juxtaposition of WED
and WOD is a good omen for conservation efforts which get heightened
attention this month.
Plastic pollution of the oceans is a serious threat because it
degrades very slowly, polluting waterways for a very long time. In
addition, plastic pollution impacts the health of aquatic animals
because animals including zooplankton mistake the plastic micro beads
for food. Scientists also fear health impacts for humans. Sri Lanka is
one of the few countries which acted upon this threat by forming a
Marine Pollution Prevention Authority and other projects to clean up the
The World Ocean Day reminds everyone of the major role the oceans
have in everyday life. They are the lungs of our planet, providing most
of the oxygen we breathe. Through this day, the UN also aims to develop
a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean and mobilize and unite
the world's population on a project for the sustainable management of
the world's oceans. This is very important because over-exploitation of
certain fish stocks has severely affected the ocean biodiversity in some
areas. The public can also celebrate together the beauty, the wealth and
the promise of the ocean.
We should take a holistic view about conserving both the land areas
and the oceans. The conservation of forests, which account for 30
percent of the earth's land area and are home to more than half of the
Earth's flora and fauna species, must be given priority. Reforestation
must essentially overtake deforestation. It is also essential to
conserve the world's fresh water, which is only a fraction of the
The thought of environmental conservation must be inculcated at home
and in the classroom so that the future generation will be more mindful
of their obligations to Planet Earth. In just 30 years, the Earth's
population will reach nine billion and the coming generations should be
ready for that future. Hence, sustainability and renewability should be
the keywords in all our endeavours every day of the year, not just