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Loss and



What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity or Biological diversity is a term
that describes the variety of living beings on
earth. In short, it is described as degree of
variation of life. Biological diversity
encompasses microorganism, plants, animals
and ecosystems such as coral reefs,
forests, rainforests, deserts etc.
Biodiversity also refers to the number, or
abundance of different species living within a
particular region. It represents the wealth of
biological resources available to us.
Biodiversity has three essential elements:

Genetic diversity: Genetic

Species diversity: This refers to the

Ecosystem diversity: It is the

diversity is the variation in genes that

exists within a species

variety in species or the living organisms.

diversity of ecosystems, natural

communities and habitats. In essence, its

the variety of ways that species interact
with each other and their environment.
Recently a new aspect has also been
added- Molecular diversity.

Loss of Biodiversity
In general, loss of biodiversity in a region may
lead to (a) decline in plant production, (b)
lowered resistance to environmental
perturbations such as drought and (c)
increased variability in certain ecosystem
processes such as plant productivity, water
use, and pest and disease cycles.
While it is doubtful if any new species are
being added (through speciation) into the
earths treasury of species, there is no doubt
about their continuing losses. The biological
wealth of our planet has been declining

rapidly and the accusing finger is clearly

pointing to human activities.
Some examples of recent extinctions include
the dodo (Mauritius), quagga (Africa),
thylacine (Australia), Stellers Sea Cow
(Russia) and three subspecies (Bali, Javan,
Caspian) of tiger. The last twenty years alone
have witnessed the disappearance of 27
Adding to the grim scenario of extinctions is
the fact that more than 15,500 species worldwide are facing the threat of extinction.
Presently, 12 per cent of all bird species, 23
per cent of all mammal species, 32 per cent
of all amphibian species and 31per cent of all
gymnosperm species in the world face the
threat of extinction.

What threatens our Biodiversity?

There are several threats that can lead to the

loss of Biodiversity:
Habitat loss and fragmentation is
considered by conservation biologists to
be the primary cause of biodiversity loss.
Clearance of native vegetation for
agriculture, housing, timber and industry,
as well as draining wetlands and flooding
valleys to form reservoirs, destroys these
habitats and all the organisms in them. In
addition, this destruction can cause
remaining habitats to become fragmented
and so too small for some organisms to
persist, or fragments may be too far apart
for other organisms to move between.
Invasive alien species are the
second greatest threat to biodiversity
worldwide. Whether introduced on
purpose or accidentally, non-native
species can cause severe problems in the
ecosystems they invade, from affecting
individuals to causing huge changes in
ecosystem functioning and the extinction
of many species. Apart from the risks to
human health, alien species inflict
massive economic costs to agriculture,

forestry, fisheries and other human

activities. For e.g. The Nile perch
introduced into Lake Victoria in east
Africa led eventually to the extinction of
an ecologically unique assemblage of
more than 200 species of cichlid fish in
the lake

Pollution is currently poisoning all
forms of life, both on land and in the
water, and contributing to climate
change. Any chemical in the wrong place
or at the wrong concentration can be
considered a pollutant. Transport,
industry, construction, extraction, power
generation and agroforestry all contribute
pollutants to the air, land and water.
These chemicals can directly affect
biodiversity or lead to chemical
imbalances in the environment that
ultimately kill individuals, species and

Climate change, brought about by
emissions of greenhouse gases when

fossil fuels are burnt, is making life

uncomfortably hot for some species and
uncomfortably cold for others. This can
lead to a change in the abundance and
distribution of individual species around
the globe and will affect the crops we
grow, cause a rise in sea levels and
problems to many coastal ecosystems. In
addition, the climate is becoming more
unpredictable and extreme devastating
events are becoming more frequent.

Over exploitation by humans
causes massive destruction to natural
ecosystems. Exploitation of biodiversity
occurs for food (e.g. fish), construction
(e.g. trees), industrial products (e.g.
animal blubber, skins), the pet trade (e.g.
reptiles, fish, orchids), fashion (e.g. fur,
ivory) and traditional medicines (e.g.
rhino horn). Selective removal of an
individual species can unbalance
ecosystems and all other organisms
within them. In addition, the physical
removal of one species often harms other
(e.g. fishing by-catches)

Human populations are growing at
an exponential rate, resulting in the
problems above. There are more than 7
billion people in the world, and although
natural disasters, disease and famines
cause massive human mortality, we are
getting better at surviving and the
population just keeps growing. Human
population numbers tripled in the
twentieth century and although growth is
slowing, one estimate predicts it will take
until the twenty-third century for them to
level out at around 11 billion.


The Sundarbans, which lies around 100 km to

the south-east of Kolkata in the 24- Paraganas
District of West Bengal, is formed by the
confluence of Padma, Brahmaputra and
Meghna rivers. Spread over an area of 9,600
sq. km., Sundarbans is bound by the

IchamatiRaimangal Rivers in the east,

Hooghly River in the west, Bay of Bengal in
the south, and DampierHodges line in the
The most prominent feature of Sundarbans is
the ubiquitous mangrove forests, which
accounts for 85 per cent of all mangrove
forests found in India. Champion (1936)
classified Sundarbans as moist tropical seral
forests, comprising of beach and tidal forests.
In terms of biodiversity, Sundarbans serves as
an important refuge for several endangered
and threatened mammals including the tiger
(Panthera tigris), smooth-coated otter
(Lutrogale perspicillata), and great Indian
civet (Viverra zibetha). The region also has
several smaller predators such as the jungle
cat (Felis chaus), fishing cat (Prionailurus
viverrinus), and leopard (Prionailurus
bengalensis). It is home to over 150 avian
species. In terms of floral diversity,
Sundarbans consists of 64 plant species
In recognition of its high biodiversity and the
occurrence of endangered and threatened

species, the Sundarbans was designated as a

UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.
However, urbanisation of Kolkata and its
neighbouring areas have had severe impact
on the Sundarbans. Construction of various
infrastructure and increasing demand for
natural resources from the city and its
neighbourhood have led to large scale
deforestation of mangroves, siltation and
The Farakka barrage project, taken up for augmenting the navigational status of
the Kolkata port in 1975, has brought significant increase in the freshwater
discharge in its distributaries. As a result, the rivers in the eastern sector have
lost connection with the GangaBhagirathi system in the course of time and are
now fed only by the tide. This has resulted in significant changes in the fish
Studies by Dhaneesh and Kumar (2010) argue that the western sector of the
Sundarbans showed the presence of more economically important fish species,
while the eastern sector was populated with the commercially insignificant
varieties. The study attributed the variations in fish diversity to ingression of
seawater and the resultant increase in salinity that led to reproductive failures
and increase in mortality due to loss of primary food supply.

Many studies show pronounced ecological

change is occurring in Sundarbans due to

unprecedented discharge of untreated

domestic and industrial effluents carried by
the tributary rivers, as well as disposal of
contaminated mud from the Haldia Port
Complex, a major oil disembarkment terminal
in eastern India. The delta has become
susceptible to pollutants like organochlorine,
pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls,
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy
metals. These pollutants are slowly changing
the estuary's geochemistry and affecting the
local coastal environment

Importance of Biodiversity/ Why

should we conserve Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is extremely important to people
and the health of ecosystems. A few of the
reasons are:
Biodiversity allows us to live healthy and
happy lives. It provides us with an array
of foods and materials and it contributes
to the economy. Without a diversity of
pollinators, plants, and soils, our
supermarkets would have a lot less

Most medical discoveries to cure diseases

and lengthen life spans were made
because of research into plant and animal
biology and genetics. Every time a
species goes extinct or genetic diversity
is lost, we will never know whether
research would have given us a new
vaccine or drug.
Biodiversity is an important part
of ecological services that make life
livable on Earth. They include everything
from cleaning water and absorbing
chemicals, which wetlands do, to
providing oxygen for us to breatheone
of the many things that plants do for
Biodiversity allows for ecosystems to
adjust to disturbances like extreme fires
and floods. If a reptile species goes
extinct, a forest with 20 other reptiles is
likely to adapt better than another forest
with only one reptile.
Genetic diversity prevents diseases and
helps species adjust to changes in their

Simply for the wonder of it all. There are

few things as beautiful and inspiring as
the diversity of life that exists on Earth.

Conservation of Biodiversity
There are several strategies which are
adapted for conservation of Biodiversity.
Some of these are:



Formal policies and programs for conservation

and sustainable utilisation of biodiversity
resources dates back to several decades. The
concept of environmental protection is
enshrined in the Indian constitution in articles
48a and 51a(g). Major central acts relevant to
biodiversity include:
Environment Protection Act, 1986
Fisheries Act, 1897
Forest Act, 1927 Forest (Conservation) Act,
Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and Wildlife
(Protection) Amendment Act 1991

The various Central Acts are supported by a

number of state laws and statutes concerning
forests and other natural resources. Some of
them are: National Forest Policy amended in
1988, National Conservation Strategy and
Policy Statement for Environment and
Sustainable Development, National
Agricultural Policy, National Land Use Policy,
National Fisheries Policy, National Policy and
Action Strategy on Biodiversity, National
Wildlife Action Plan and Environmental Action


In-situ Conservation

Conserving the animals and plants in their

natural habitats is known as in situ
conservation. The established natural habitats
National parks and sanctuaries
Biosphere reserves
Nature reserves
Reserved and protected forests

Preservation plots
Reserved forests
The first such initiative was the establishment
of the Corbett National Park in 1936.
National Parks are highly protected by law. No
human habitation, private land holding or
traditional human activity such as firewood
collection or grazing is allowed within the
park. Sanctuaries are also protected but
certain types of activities are permitted within
these areas.
Biosphere Reserves are another category of
protected areas. Under this, a large area is
declared as a Biosphere Reserve where
wildlife is protected, but local communities
are allowed to continue to live and pursue
traditional activities within the Reserve. The
Government of India has set up seven
biosphere reserves: Nokrek (Meghalaya),
Nilgiri (Kamataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu),
Namdapha (Arunachal Pradesh), Nanda Devi
(Uttar Pradesh), Sundarbans (West Bengal),
Great Nicobar (Andaman & Nicobar Islands),
Gulf of Mannnar (Tamil Nadu).

Several special projects have also been

launched to save certain animal species which
have been identified as needing concerted
protection effort. These projects are designed
to protect the species in situ. Project Tiger,
Project Elephant, Save the Barasingha
campaign are examples of this initiative.


Ex-situ Conservation

Ex-situ conservation of plants and animals

preserve means to protect them away from
their natural habitat. This could be in
zoological parks and botanical gardens or
through the forestry institutions and
agricultural research centres. A lot of effort is
under way to collect and preserve the genetic
material of crops, animal, bird and fish
species. This work is being done by
institutions such as the National Bureau of
Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi, the
National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources,
etc. Reintroduction of an animal or plant into
the habitat from where it has become extinct
is another form of ex situ conservation. For
example, the Gangetic gharial has been

reintroduced in the rivers of Uttar Pradesh,

Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where it had
become extinct.

Community Participation

It is being recognized that no legal provisions

can be effective unless local communities are
involved in planning, management and
monitoring conservation programmes. There
are several initiatives to do this, both by
government as well as non-governmental
organizations. For example, the Joint Forest
Management philosophy stresses involvement
of village communities in regenerating and
protecting degraded forest land in the vicinity
of villages. Successful conservation strategies
will have to have the confidence and
participation of the local communities.