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Rethinking biodiversity during Covid-19 times

At Sparknews, we believe that they can also be great opportunities to adapt and rethink our relations with the world. As a team who wants to ignite new narratives that can accelerate the ecological and social transition, we can’t avoid asking ourselves what will be the shape of the global collective story emerging from the current worldwide sanitary emergency. In this week #SparkMinute, let’s focus on biodiversity with local examples of solidarity, of businesses rethinking their models, and of articles and opinions that can nourish our imagination.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), wintering from November to March in Oyamel pine forests (Abies religiosa), Monarch Butterfly Biosphere © naturepl.com Sylvain Cordier

A vaccine might save us from the coronavirus, but it will not save biodiversity

Collective immunity, pandemics, zoonoses… These scientific concepts, somewhat abstract to some, seem insufficient to fully grasp the scope of what is happening to us all right now. In the midst of the outbreak some have even turned to more mystical explanations, including those who proclaim Mother Nature is finally taking back what belongs to her, finally free from humans and their misdeeds. And a few ‘viral’ images are backing that up — from pictures of whales happily enjoying the human absence in the Mediterranean Sea, killer whales spotted near Vancouver, and goats roaming around the streets in Wales. However, some of these stories are incomplete, at best, and others simply untrue, with dates or places that do not match. Many saw, for instance, the images of the ’Venetian’ dolphins and swans returning blissfully to empty and clean canals, which were actually taken respectively in Sardinia and near Burano.

Explaining these situations entirely through the lens of the restorative power of nature can also highlight how humans often disregard other species. Back in 2018, well before the pandemic, bats could already be heard singing in the streets of LondonSo it might be less that animals are getting louder, and more that human beings are learning to tone it down — and listen more. The idea that animals can only reclaim their space as soon as humans are gone —or keeping social distance— can also overestimate the extent of biodiversity’s recovery. If sea turtles are now thriving in Florida, it is fair to imagine that a significant increase in this species population will only be observed in the future if human disturbances do not resume once the lockdown is lifted. After all, experiences in marine protected areas have shown that an ecosystem’s full recovery can take as much as two decades.

The links between coronavirus and biodiversity are however a wee bit more complexe. Many insist that, like other zoonoses before, Covid-19 came as a direct consequence of human’s substantial disruption of the natural ecosystem. The animals that carried the virus did not spontaneously come to us; we went knocking on their doors — and sometimes even burning down their houses. Throughout the last century, the considerable amount of pressure humanity has put our ecosystems under has not only prompt upsetting epidemics, it has also left the planet’s biodiversity crying out for help. With one million species under pending menace —a figure growing at an unprecedented pace— the ecosystems humans depend on for survival are more in danger than ever, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

If finding a vaccine could prevent us from catching the coronavirus, it will hardly suffice to protect all the living species. Fortunately, there are a great number of (other) ways we can rise up to the challenge — transforming our relationship with nature, creating an international health court, ending wildlife trade, reducing industrial production and reorganizing distribution, turning a portion of natural land into a sanctuary, or reintroducing autochthonous trees on farming land. Anyone can take action. Changing our way of life could be the first step towards preserving the —rich and crucial— diversity of life on Earth. Your first step can be to discover the several initiatives in this newsletter that show that the world around us is full of life.

When organizations walk the extra mile

The coronavirus pandemic has had yet another unexpected consequence — oceans are regenerating. With hotels and restaurants closing their doors around the world, fish and seafood demand and prices have plummeted in Asia, home to some of the world’s most prominent markets. According to The Japan Times, this ‘break’ is allowing species to regenerate and repopulate the oceans once exposed to fishing overexploitation.

As awareness of wildlife welfare and conservation grows in China, some zoos are transforming themselves into places devoted to save endangered species and teach the public about animals and conservation. Home to more than 5,000 wild animals and 263 species, the Qingdao Forest Wildlife World zoo announced last week that it had halted animal performances permanently and replaced them with educational programs.

Preserving biodiversity also means being able to continuously learn from other species. In the United Kingdom, six dogs are being trained to sniff out coronavirus by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Durham University, and the Medical Detection Dogs organization. The training involves giving the dogs coronavirus patients’ face masks to sniff, to discover if Covid-19 has a unique odour that could be identified by canine’s enhanced sense of smell.

You can’t protect what you don’t know. NASA is inviting video gamers to embark on virtual ocean research expeditions to help map coral reefs and better understand these threatened ecosystems. NeMO-Net is a video game in which players can identify and classify corals using real NASA 3D images. As they play, gamers help train NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer to recognize corals in any image of the ocean floor based on the coral classifications players make manually.

Local initiatives against global disorder

Did you know that North America is home to roughly 4,000 species of native bees? Wildlife photographer Clay Bolt shares in this ‘Conservation in the classroom’ series, launched by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), some amazing facts about bees. You can also learn more about the animal you probably didn’t know existed a few months ago — the Pangolin. WWF has come up with a fun quiz with some tricky questions — do pangolins have teeth? Find out here.

On April 22, people around the world celebrated Earth Day. Perhaps one of the easiest steps we can take to protect our biodiversity is to switch to a plant-based diet. The Earth Day Organization has developed a whole meal plan with delicious recipes. Look out for other great recipes by the American plant-based chef Jason Wrobel. To go further, you can follow the Switch cleanse in 14 days developed by Switch4good, a dairy-free nonprofit organization for and by athletes.

You can also contribute to science to protect biodiversity. Earth Challenge 2020 is a citizen science campaign using mobile technology and open citizen science data. The mobile application helps everyone to document environmental changes in their community by collecting observations of local air quality and plastic pollution. In June, participants will be able to collect more data on insect populations and other critical environmental indicators.

Admiring nature is known to relieve stress and improve mental wellbeing. For Earth Day, WWF launched the Billion Shades Of Green campaign, encouraging people all over the world to share their most colourful pictures of nature — whether taken during past outdoor adventures or from inside the house during lockdown —, to brighten each other’s days with a little bit of cheerfulness and optimism. Discover the winners on WWF’s website.

Let’s imagine further

While Covid-19 demands immediate action, we could also benefit from having a long-term roadmap to fundamentally transform our relationship with the natural world in order to reduce the risk of future pandemics. In this op-ed for The Independent, the acting executive secretary for the Convention on Biological Diversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, explains how stricter controls on global wildlife trade and live animal markets would help keep societies healthy. You can read more here.

We could learn from places where the human population grew thanks to nature, no at the expense of it. In this 2017 article for The Conversation on Bangalore’s demographic growth, Professor Harini Nagendra presents the ancient landscape of the Indian city through a three-dimensional view. The Solutions Journalism Network gathered similar initiatives in this collection, where we can learn how indigenous communities are on the frontlines of resistance against deforestation, extraction and overexploitation of natural resources, and fighting back against the expansion of unsustainable agricultural practices. Find out more here and here.

What if the over standardization of everything, including our industrial processes, our relationships and our culture, could explain the current biodiversity loss? It is the main argument that runs throughout the book Toutes les couleurs de la Terre written by jurist and legal anthropologist Pierre Spelewoy, and geographer and anthropologist Damien Deville. Shortly before the coronavirus outbreak, the duo signed an op-ed in Commonspolis, alongside journalist Flora Clodic-Tanguy. In it, they claim the overall standardization of Western societies is responsible for the progressive disappearance of both biodiversity and social resilience, and suggest a substantial citizen and political response is needed to replace diversity —whether human or non-human— back at the center of social models. Read more here.

At Sparknews, are convinced that the coronavirus global outbreak will lead us to draw valuable lessons about our globalized economic system. Whether on matters like education, solidarity, biodiversity or our way of work, it will be up to us to return to the status quo once the health crisis is over, or to reshape everything. Discover our #SparkMinute on educationenergywork, and our diet.

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