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Sunday, 05 June 2016

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Saving Planet Earth and its oceans

The 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 prevent it.

Products

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 same year.

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.

Focus

"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.

Threat

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 coastal areas.

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 seawater.

Mindful

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 today.

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