By Ifham Nizam
With Sri Lanka having an extensive biodiversity, primarily due to the country’s geographic positioning, conservation has become a major focus. It is the need of the hour to have planned management of Sri Lanka’s natural resources, to prevent exploitation, destruction or neglect.
According to senior naturalist and author, Jayantha Jayewardene, says there has to be conservation of the different species, conservation of their habitats and conservation of genetic diversity.
He is of the view that relevant government agencies, together with selected non-governmental agencies, should formulate an overall plan for the conservation of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity.
He cited the Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Forest Department, the Coast Conservation Department, the Department of National Zoological Gardens, the Botanical Gardens and the Central Environment Authority as the leaders in this respect.
“Conservation can be carried through legal protection – Ordinances and Conventions, the establishment of protected areas, environmental rehabilitation, reforestation, reintroduction of species and the sustainable utilization of these resources,” he said.
Jayewardene added that ex situ conservation can be carried out in zoological gardens, botanical gardens, medicinal plant gardens and in other similar institutions.
“Sri Lanka must draft legislation that requires foreign or local companies to protect the country’s biodiversity or conduct commercial research to enter into formal profit sharing agreements with the government,” he said.
“It is necessary to ensure that such companies are not `fly by night’ operators, and encourage the multinationals already established in Sri Lanka. Most important of all, Sri Lanka has to work jointly with India, as there are more plants endemic to Sri Lanka and Southern India and some endemic to Sri Lanka alone,” he said.
“Like it or not, the country’s biodiversity is a resource shared largely with India. And there is also the advantage that India stands up to the West when its own interests are threatened,” he said.
He added that the crying need for Sri Lanka’s biodiversity today is information. “The vast majority of our biodiversity wealth is in the rainforests of the south-west, exemplified by the Sinharaja forest. This is the last substantial patch of lowland rain forest remaining in Sri Lanka, and it is only 88 square kilometers in extent, just 0.14 per cent of the island’s rain area,” he said.
Biological diversity or biodiversity, refers to the variety of species living in a specific area, and encompasses all species of plants, animals and microorganisms and the ecosystems and ecological processes of which they are an integral part. Biodiversity has three different levels – genetic diversity, species diversity and eco systems diversity.
Despite Sri Lanka being a biodiversity hotspot most of the relevant authorities have overlooked the huge possibility of the using the resources in a sustainable manner.
He also said Sri Lanka, with the Western Ghats of India, is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Jayewardene said within the Asian region, Sri Lanka has the highest species density (ie the number of species per 10,000 sq. km.) for flowering plants, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Sri Lanka also has the second highest population density of humans.
A large number of species are endemic to Sri Lanka. This means these species are found only in this country and in some instances in particular areas or ecosystems. If any of these endemic species become extinct, they cannot be retrieved from any other part of the world, since they do not exist anywhere else. The graph shows what percentage of our species is endemic
Jayewardene, who is a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group, pointed out that Sri Lanka’s natural resources, which stem mainly from our rich biodiversity, have great economic value through direct use. They are used for food, medicine, timber/ fuel wood, clothes, recreation, biological control, ornamental and industrial processes
There is also an indirect value in the biodiversity, which is generated from its ability to maintain ecological systems, recycle nutrients, soil conservation, protection of our watersheds, in carbon sequestration, and in pollination
An ecosystem has been described as a community of interacting species occupying a given area, together with the physical environment within which it exists and with which it also interacts; an interconnected network of biotic and a biotic components comprising a given area or region
There are two types of, ecosystems, Jayewardene explained, Aquatic ecosystems and terrestrial ecosystems. Some ecosystems are natural and others man-made.
Examples of natural aquatic ecosystems are marshes, streams and rivers, estuaries and lagoons, coastal seas, sea grass beds and mudflats, mangroves and salt marshes, coral and sandstone reefs and villus. Man-made aquatic ecosystems are tanks and reservoirs, canals and ponds and lakes.
Examples of natural terrestrial ecosystems are tropical wet evergreen forests, tropical submontane and montane forests, mixed evergreen forests, grasslands, scrub forest, savannah, sand dunes and beaches. Man-made terrestrial ecosystems are home gardens, agriculture fields, botanical gardens, monoculture or mixed plantations etc.
Habitat loss and habitat degradation
Jayewardene explained that the habitats of many species are lost due to farming, landfills in low lying areas, human settlements, forest fires, encroachment, timber extraction, and irrigation projects.
Habitat degradation is due to haphazard tourism, pollution of land, water and air, use of pesticide and fertilizer, mining of corals, gems, and minerals and introduction of exotic species.
If any of our natural resources are used in excess or in a manner that these resources cannot sustain themselves, there is a likelihood of those species becoming either extirpated or extinct. Over exploitation can be for food and medicine, use of recreational areas, timber extraction, export of aquarium fish, and use of animal parts as jewelry.
Jayewardene an internationally recognized expert on Asian elephants. recently wrote The Diversity of Sri Lankan Wildlife. His first book was titled The Elephant in Sri Lanka. He has also written a book in Sinhala on elephants. courtesy: Ceylon Today