International Day for Biological Diversity 2020

International Day for Biological Diversity 2020

By: Judy Mann

‘If we give our very best to all the children of today, and if we pass on our planet in the fullness of her beauty and natural richness, we will be serving the children of the future.’ 
Nelson R. Mandela in ‘Towards Gondwana Alive’, 2001

Biodiversity – short for biological diversity – is simply the variety of life on planet earth. Biodiversity ranges from the genes in the cells of every living plant or animal (genetic diversity), to the different species (species diversity) and the ecosystems in which they live.

Biodiversity makes life on Earth possible for humans. It includes all living organisms from microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, plankton and other tiny plants and animals, invisible to the human eye, to plants (unicellular algae to giant redwoods) and all the familiar animals such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and the many millions of invertebrates This variety of life has evolved over billions of years. Biodiversity includes humans too… we are a part of the earth’s biodiversity.

The South African National Biodiversity Assessment 2018  was published last year by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. This document represents the work of over 90 institutions, including the Oceanographic Research Institute. ORI  scientists were amongst the more than 470 individuals who contributed to the hundreds of pages that make up the report.

The Assessment reveals that South Africa is a megadiverse country with exceptional species richness (lots of species) and endemism (found nowhere else in the world). South Africa is home to an estimated 67 000 animals and over 20 400 plant species.  In fact, our country is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse nations. We are home to 7% of the world’s plant species, 5% of the world’s mammal species, 7% of the world’s bird species and 4% of the reptile species. On the marine front, our oceans are home to 16% of the world’s shark, skate and ray species, 10% of the world’s coral species and almost 25% of the cuttlefish, octopus and squid species of the world.  Not only do we have incredible species diversity – we also have enormous ecosystem diversity. So far 150 different marine ecosystems have been identified.

Many animals and plants are endemic to South Africa.  This means that we have the sole responsibility to care for them – if they go extinct in our country, they cannot be replaced from anywhere else in the world. In fact, about 33% of South Africa’s over 13 000 marine species are endemic. This is one of the reasons why marine conservation is so important. This rich diversity is vital for the maintenance of the many ecosystem services that make life on earth possible. These marine natural systems provide us with food, they regulate our climate and give us clean water and fresh air (oxygen and carbon dioxide). The plankton in the oceans around us are responsible for absorbing much of the CO2 in the atmosphere thereby helping regulate the earth’s temperature. Basically – protecting marine biodiversity is critical for human survival. So, let’s celebrate our biodiversity today – and protect it every day!

For more information about the many research and conservation projects that we undertake – please have a look at our website.