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LATIN AMERICA / THE CARIBBEAN
Biodiversity on the decline
5/12/2010
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Shrinking rainforests, reefs and glaciers threaten natural habitats.

Dramatic and rapid changes are needed to stop the exponential degradation of the world´s ecosystems, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Program, released on May 10.

As the region with the combined greatest biodiversity on the planet, Latin America and the Caribbean are particularly at risk. The region holds almost half of the world´s tropical forests, 33 percent of mammals, 35 percent of reptile species, 41 percent of bird species and half of the world´s amphibian species. But biodiversity here is plummeting because of soil degradation, pollution, unsustainable use of forests and the introduction of non-native species.

“Natural systems that support economies, lives and livelihoods across the planet are at risk of rapid degradation and collapse unless there is swift, radical and creative action to conserve and sustainably use the variety of life on Earth,” said the UN agency in a release with the publication of the report, the “Global Biodiversity Outlook.”

“The greatest risks to biodiversity [in Latin America and the Caribbean] stem from the change of land use, with the consequent reduction, fragmentation and even loss of habitats,” said the report.

Export-based agriculture, including soy, livestock, fruits, vegetables and flowers, is responsible for close to half of the region´s deforestation, though large-scale infrastructure projects also play a role.

The deforestation and damage to large swaths of the Amazon Rainforest could affect rainfall patterns, aside from the extinction of endemic species.

Thirty percent of the Caribbean´s coral reefs have been destroyed or are at serious risk. Most Andean glaciers, which hold 10 percent of the world´s fresh water, could disappear between 10 and 20 years.

“We need a new vision for biological diversity for a healthy planet and a sustainable future for humankind,” said United Nations Environment Program executive director, Achim Steiner. “Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life-forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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