Acting upon words the importance of biodiversity conservation

By Chenelle Fernando

From emaciated elephants to forest fires, whether we are taking the plight of our planet seriously is a question posed upon those with direct involvement, which unarguably means us all. Where the environment is concerned, the public trust doctrine requires all citizens as well as the government of a country to contribute towards the sustenance and conservation of its natural resources from exploitation by future generations, thereby making us all accountable.

This month’s (September) WNPS lecture presents to its audience a speaker with over 25 years of experience in the science of biodiversity conservation. Dr. Sriyani Miththapala on this day hopes to reflect upon the gaps encountered under current observation measures. She is a graduate in biology from the University of Colombo and obtained her MA in Biology from Smith College, US, and PhD in Wildlife and Range Sciences from the University of Florida, US. She is a Smithsonian Research Associate and is currently a consultant to the Sri Lanka Country Office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With an abundance of knowledge pertaining to this field, we were intrigued to have learnt that Dr. Miththapala engages in activities to enhance the level of awareness amongst laymen by encompassing terms understood by all individuals.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Brunch, Dr. Miththapala apprehended that the threats faced by the ecosystems result in environment damage as well as biodiversity loss.

She views habitat destruction as one of the most prevalent threats rendered upon our ecosystems. As populations increase, more and more people tend to move towards boundaries of wildlife and nature reserves. Not only would this implicate the loss of our forest cover, but it also results in the unlikely effect of habitat degradation.

With overcrowding comes also the implication of exploitation. “Because there are more people, they do not engage in traditional subsistence where someone would go and pluck something from their garden.” Needless to say, dilapidated forest cover, in turn, has an adverse impact on our biodiversity. With this, Dr. Miththapala outlined the adverse impact fertiliser and pesticides have in our ecosystems. Not only would it affect the breakdown of nutrients found in the soil, but would also pollute water as the by-product generally flows into streams and waterways. Outlining this haphazard, she added: “We know what happens in general, but we don’t know specifically.”

Commenting on the research conducted by Anya Ratnayake pertaining to fishing cats surrounding our region, it has been identified that these species of cats are able to adapt to urbanisation. That being said, not all species are capable of this. “There are some species that can do this but most species can’t.” Invasive species on the other hand are seen to pose a greater threat to native species. Commenting on the abundance of thorny plant species found in the Bundala area, she concluded that the thorns tend to harm animals that consume them. The accidental introduction of species of exotic/aquarium fish threatens ecosystems and its sustenance. “Because they are carnivores, they would consume freshwater species found in the Wet Zone,” incited Dr. Miththapala.

Where seasons are concerned, the wet and dry seasons are the only seasons our country is forced to reckon with as we are located closer to the Equator. Irregular weather patterns threaten day-to-day human activities such as farming and fishing. “Fishermen don’t know when to go fishing because although there are patterns, those old patterns have changed.” The days in which we receive rainfall have been limited to two-three days at a time; hence, although we receive the required amount, Dr. Miththapala apprehended that it mostly get washed out due to underutilisation.

“On the other hand, we remain hopeful as measures such as such as the National Biodiversity Action Plan – a five-year plan on how to deal with biodiversity laws. If we implement even 50% of it, the situation will change.” In addition to this, as a party to the Convention on Biodiversity, a state is required to write a biodiversity report, and revisit it after a few years to reflect how much of its goal has been in fact achieved.

It’s important to note that despite the actions of the government, citizens have responsibilities of their own. Dr. Miththapala asserted: “We tend to blame the Government and the Wildlife Department, but there is a lot each of us can do to make a difference. This is what I have been saying for a while now.”

Find out more on the basics and the whys of biodiversity protection at the WNPS lecture scheduled to be held at Jasmine Hall, BMICH on 12 September at 6 p.m. There will be no prior registration, thus the lecture welcomes everyone.