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Celebrating Biodiversity Day in Aotearoa and Around the World

© DAVE HANSFORD/ORIGIN NATURAL HISTORY MEDIA
A week-old tuatara at Mt. Bruce National Wildlife Centre, Wairarapa, New Zealand

Biodiversity, or “biological diversity”, means the variability among living organisms from all sources including land, marine and freshwater ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. (based on definition from the Convention on Biological Diversity)


From tiny brown ants to mighty blue whales, from miniscule mushrooms to towering Kahikatea trees – biodiversity is the incredible variety of all life on Earth.



Aotearoa New Zealand’s plants, animals, and ecosystems have evolved in isolation for 80 million years. This remoteness, along with our diverse climate and habitats – from alpine rivers and ancient rainforests, to fiords and kelp forests – have made it a global hotspot of biodiversity. Over 80,000 plant, animal, and fungi species are found here and nowhere else on earth, including flightless parrots (kākāpō), giant crickets (wētā), the world’s smallest dolphin (Māui), and the last survivors of an order of reptiles that thrived in the age of the dinosaurs (tuatara).

The natural world contains about 8.7 million species (give or take 1.3 million). (Nature.com)

 
But biodiversity is so much more than the iconic species we love. It underpins our culture, our wellbeing, our livelihoods, and our very existence. Our forests, rivers, oceans and soils provide us with the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink. Healthy, thriving ecosystems are also our greatest ally in the fight against climate change — ensuring that our land (whenua) and ocean (moana) can continue to sustain us for years to come.
 
Yet, biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate – here in Aotearoa, and around the world.

WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 shows wildlife populations around the world have, on average, declined by two-thirds in less than half a century. One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.
 
This staggering decline is due to humanity’s increasing destruction of nature. This is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife, but also our own health – giving rise to new and deadly diseases such as COVID-19 – a clear signal of our broken relationship with nature.
 
Aotearoa’s biodiversity loss is among the highest the world. The changes we have made to our lands and sea, as well as pressures from invasive species, pollution, and climate change, have pushed 90% of seabirds, 76% of freshwater fish, 84% of reptiles, and 74% of terrestrial birds at risk or threatened with extinction (Environment Aotearoa 2019).  If they are lost here, they are lost entirely.

"We know what is happening, we know what we must do—now, we must simply do it." - Sir Rob Fenwick


We still have a chance to put things right. But we must act now, and we must act together, to protect and restore our unique biodiversity.

We can start by following the principles of mātauranga Māori – knowledge that has been gathered over centuries by generations of people who lived as part of the whenua and moana of Aotearoa. To protect our biodiversity, we must recognise that we are kaitiaki (guardians) of the natural world, and the natural world is kaitiaki of us.
 
The good news is, more and more people around the world are concerned about the fate of our planet, changing their ways and demanding greater action to protect our one home. But we have a lot more work to do.

This year, International Day for Biological Diversity is 22 May, and the theme is “We’re part of the solution For Nature”. Here are a few ways you can do just that:
  • Start early: help young people learn more about the natural world and build an understanding of the connections between biodiversity and our everyday lives
  • Make better choices: simple changes – from the way we travel, to the way we heat our homes, to what we eat – all make a difference
  • Support local projects: communities across Aotearoa are doing critical work to conserve and restore New Zealand's biodiversity 
  • Sign up: get updates on how to get our government to act on commitments to restore nature this year, including the adoption of a new global biodiversity framework at the UN Biodiversity Conference in October 2021.
We're putting more pressure on nature than ever before, but it's also people who have the power to change the trajectory. This Biodiversity Day, let's commit to do our bit and be part of the solution protect the natural world that sustains and inspires us all.