Protecting biodiversity: Safeguarding the future | Sunday Observer

Protecting biodiversity: Safeguarding the future

28 March, 2021

The biological diversity of life on earth is known to be the foundation of human existence. One way of explaining the subject is through the phrase by the famous naturalist John Muir ‘when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.’

This means all living creatures need other creatures and plants in one way another. Biodiversity and ecosystems protect human life from natural calamities. Biodiversity helps regulates the climate, helps the food chain, nourishes the soil, helps make numerous types of medicine and many more. This unique feature of the Earth is the most complex, dynamic and varied that experienced dramatic changes at the hands f humans.

However, according to the current observations, biodiversity around the globe, including Sri Lanka, is fast declining due to the increasing population where many countries are burdened by poverty, food insecurity, and constant climate changes. These primary biodiversity losses predominantly occur as a result of human activities. Around the world, the trend is to adopt and spur demand for more responsible and diverse practices to protect the environment, water resources, forests and wildlife.

Flora and fauna

Sri Lanka is identified by the international community as the richest country in the Asian region in terms of species concentration, ecological balance, climatic conditions and landscape variability. In a relatively tiny space of just 65,000 sq.ft., the country provides amazing diversity and favourable conditions for many types of flora and fauna in almost all geographical regions throughout the country.

Amazingly, the country has an array of ecosystems such as rain forests and marine environments of over 1600 kilometres of coastline. The climatic zones in the country are characterised by various forest types, such as rainforests, mountain cloud forests, dry zone monsoon forests, lush mangroves, coral reefs and thorn rub forests.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his election manifesto, ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ pledged that he will take many positive steps to protect the rich biodiversity of the country. In Chapter eight of the document, the President has amply elaborated his vision and the plans to preserve biodiversity and the environment in general. The manifesto describes the definitive measures taken on water management, reforestation, countrywide planting programs and conservation of natural ecosystems.

Regardless of the prevailing laws and heavy media involvement, damaging human activity encroaches on natural environments destroying the habitats of numerous species. The damage occurs on two different fronts. The first is the illegal activities of felling of trees for commercial gains and the second is the rising haphazard and uncoordinated development activities sanctioned by the Government.

The prevailing agricultural intensification in the country with the priority given to food security is another unavoidable situation that damages the environment. People need food to live. Therefore, strengthening food production is a vitally important goal of a country. However, the damage predominantly takes place due to the space requirements, use of chemicals and pesticides, artificial fertiliser and many other such activities. Indiscriminate use of most of the chemicals in agriculture destroys insects useful for ecological balance.

The growing pressure on the food supply creates an increasing proportion of agricultural lands around the country. With the incentives and assistance promised by the Government for agriculture development projects, more people, including private sector institutions are demanding lands to cultivate. While the demand created is highly beneficial to the country in an economic context, it can, on the contrary, damage the biodiversity irreparably, if not managed with extreme care.


The relentless consumption of resources, such as timber, minerals and other human needs continues to destroy natural habitats in the country. Over-exploitation of these resources for genuine consumption and trade has to be controlled to sustain the situation. The controls imposed by Governments through the introduction of many methods have not succeeded as yet.

Public opinion is that the situation slips from control mainly due to the involvement of politicians, particularly regional politicians who misuse many public resources in their areas. It is a known secret that an enormous amount of money is required to win even a Pradeshiya Sabha election under the present electoral system. Hence, the candidates are often compelled to recover the money spent through the easiest way.

Pollution created by humans knowingly and unknowingly is one of the biggest threats for Sri Lanka. For example, the situation is so awful that despite numerous awareness campaigns by the collective print and electronic media, tons of plastic waste is collected each year at the most sacred ‘Sri Pada’ temple. The vast majority of pilgrims disregard the warnings, instructions and requests and dump plastic and other waste indiscriminately.

As everyone knows, the country’s unique and rich biological diversity is gradually deteriorating with declining the existence of animal and plant species. The canopy of dense natural forests keeps reducing year after year despite the hue and cry of the environmentalists and the public outcry.

Environment protection is a sensitive subject to every Sri Lankan. The public always tends to blame the Government if any environmentally harmful incident takes place at any corner of the country. Due to technology, the information spreads faster than ever on any distressing issues. Political groups with vested interests watch like hawks to strike whenever they can. Seemingly, the Government itself is providing ingredients to these anti-Government elements to relentlessly attack by delaying explanations as well as appropriate and timely action on environment-related issues.

Development projects

However, when closely scrutinise, most of these are related to infrastructure development projects and unavoidable under the circumstances. Regrettably, the Government media machinery is always falling behind and fails to make explanations in time.

As always, the Opposition parties make a heyday out of even a small and isolated incident and create suspicion among even the pro-Government public. This is a grave situation that has to be arrested without further delay to minimise the damage to the image of the Government.

However, it is the solemn obligation and duty of the Government to investigate every single incident and provide adequate information to the public. Every resource of the country belongs to the public first and foremost.

Therefore, their involvement is inevitable in any national issue. It is not a secret that almost the entire citizenry looks at the politicians with suspicion.

They are aware, through experience that politics is behind any ‘shady’ deal. Factually, regional politicians are involved in many incidents related to environmental hazards and most often leaders of Governments turned the blind eye to their misdeeds.

Biodiversity is not only a collection of animals and plants, but it is much more than what meets the eye. It includes numerous types of life forms associated with natural assets that sustain human lives.

Although the Government has given the highest priority to environmental conservation as a policy, the ground reality is that majority of the public is not aware of the significance of the matter. Therefore, more drastic action on destroyers of the environment is expected from the authorities through more intense awareness and penal system.

By protecting biodiversity, the country can maintain a resilient environment that allows the Sri Lankans to be happy, protected and prosperous.