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Biodiversity threats and opportunities in 2020: Horizon scan

Published on:
  • Aquaculture, fisheries and coastal agriculture
  • Climate and disaster risks
  • Private sector performance
  • Species
  • Sustainable land use
  • Wetland values, status and trends

What are the most promising new opportunities and pressing threats concerning efforts to conserve biodiversity?  

Nearly two dozen scientists, conservation professionals and future scanners recently came together to ask and answer that question as part of an annual “horizon scan”. This is a technique to detect early signs of potentially important developments, through a systematic examination of potential threats and opportunities, which can become trends. 

Wetlands international, Dr. Femke TonneijckProgram Manager Coastal Wetlands, was part of the horizon scanning team to ensure that the most pressing issues for wetlands are captured and to stay tuned to the latest developments. The Wetlands International network was asked to suggest topics for the long list. This list of 89 issues was then narrowed down to 15 emerging or anticipated trends that have a strong potential to benefit or harm life on earth but are not yet on the radar for most conservationists.  

Tonneijck said“What stands out for me is the wide range of issues that is usually captured, including many issues that we would otherwise not be aware of but that when thinking about it do potentially have a serious impact.“  

The ones that could have most impact on wetlands are: 

The decline of kelp forest on a global scale 

Kelps, a type of brown algae, grow as giant forests along coastlines around the world. They protect shores from erosion and shelter many other species. Kelp forests were thought to endure environmental stress, but they are declining since recent years. Further declines could potentially have significant consequences for the diversity in species and the working of the ecosystem as a whole. This also has consequences for humans that are supported by kelp forests, for example through fisheries and shoreline protection. 

Melting of polar ice acceleration due to hole in ozone layer 

It’s common knowledge that the warming atmosphere is melting the ice surrounding both the North and South pole. What’s less known, and even not fully being understood by scientists, is how the ozone hole over the Antarctic affects this. The hole in Earth’s ozone layer at the South Pole has been shrinking due to reduced emissions of pollutants, and this change could contribute to changes in wind and other weather patterns. The changing weather in turn is likely to cause more Antarctic ice to melt, exacerbating global sea-level rise and further affecting human societiescoastal communities and habitat.  

The effect of small dams on river ecology 

The effect of mega dams on the environment has received way more attention than small hydropower dams. However, small ones also influence river flow and sediment movement which in turn could alter the river system including its animals and plants. There are efforts underway for small dams in the Himalayas, other mountain ranges in Asia and the Andes to empower local communities.  With a growing number of over 80 000 such dams there is a need for a better understanding of potential impacts on the system and what can be done to minimize harm to fish and other living things.  

The possibilities of circular aquaculture 

Intensive fish farming can produce large amounts of food but is also associated with the use of tons of water and the pollution of the environment with nutrients and other chemicals. The approach of recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) reduces water demand by 97%-99%. Such an enclosed system generally has fewer direct environmental effects compared with traditional aquaculture. The downsides of this approach are the price tag and possibly the impacts from the sources of aquaculture feed, and energy requirements. 

The issues coming from the horizon scan are actively shared with the Wetlands International networkHorizon scan issues concerning wetlands were considered in the development of the Wetlands International forthcoming strategic intent, 2020-2030. 

 Interested to know more?  

  • Read the complete list of issues, published in the scientific journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.  
  • For more information please contact Dr. Femke Tonneijck