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Two Oceans Aquarium Joins ‘United for Biodiversity’

by Ingrid Hale
Two Oceans Aquarium biodiversity

The Two Oceans Aquarium has become the second African institution to join the Global Coalition United for Biodiversity. As the first South African representatives, the Aquarium joins the growing list of international organisations supporting the protection of global biodiversity.

Support for biodiversity

The European Commission’s Global Coalition United for Biodiversity is supported by the World Zoos and Aquarium Association (WAZA) of which the Aquarium is a member. These two organisations are the first aquarium-related facilities in Africa to join the Coalition. This comes at a critical time when biodiversity on land and underwater is under serious threat as a result of human activities. According to the United Nations IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, one million species, both terrestrial and aquatic, are now threatened with extinction. This includes 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals.

United for Biodiversity

United for Biodiversity was launched on World Wildlife Day 2020 ahead of the CoP 15 meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2021. The coalition calls on all national parks, aquariums, botanical gardens, zoos, science and natural history museums, and research centres around the world to mobilise and raise awareness about the current crisis facing nature. They have been urged to do this through their exhibits, education programmes, conservation and research efforts, and sustainability initiatives. This awareness needs to translate into urgent action that will enable the restoration and protection of nature.

Help to protect biodiversity

The Two Oceans Aquarium and the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation urge South Africans to do what they can to protect biodiversity by adding their voices to the more than 100 institutions and organisations that have already joined this cause. They run from Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park (the first member from Africa) to the Bronx Zoo in New York, the Natural History Museum of Vienna and the Eco-Exploratorio Puerto Rico Science Museum. From an individual perspective, this means making changes in everyday life which are less damaging to nature. From a business perspective, it means reducing the ecological footprint of one’s operations and implementing sustainability initiatives wherever possible.

The Two Oceans Aquarium is one of 200 aquariums which has joined World aquariums against plastic pollution. This was the first Coalition launched by the European Commission in 2017 and is now coordinated by UNEP.

Southern Africa’s rich biodiversity

Southern Africa is home to an incredibly rich diversity of both terrestrial and aquatic species, many of which are endemic to this region. South Africa is the third-most biological diverse country in the world.  Even though it occupies less than 1% of the world’s terrestrial land area, South Africa is home to an astonishing array of organisms, including some 7% of the world’s plants, 4% of the world’s reptiles, 7% of the world’s birds, 5% of the world’s mammals, 2% of amphibians, 1% of freshwater fish, and about 16% of all known coastal marine species.

Like other biodiversity hotpots, those in southern Africa will not escape the negative impacts of human activity.    In 2019 a national biodiversity assessment report was released after four years of research and consultation. According to this report, 60% of our coastal ecosystems are threatened as a result of mining, over-exploitation of species, a decrease in freshwater flow from rivers into the sea, and pollution. Linda Harris at the Nelson Mandela University states in the report that “Proportionately, the rate of habitat loss in the coastal zone is twice that for the rest of the country”.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to the variety of species of plants, animals, fungi and even bacteria that coexist in different ecosystems, on land and underwater, across the planet.  Biodiversity is the foundation of all life on this planet. It forms the building blocks of our very existence. Like a puzzle, every aspect of life and nature is intricately connected with every other part and forms part of the complex balance on which we depend for survival. Although we already know so much about the natural world, we are still discovering new species and arriving at understandings of the connections between different parts of the web of life.

Biodiversity is also crucial for the resilience of ecosystems. The more diversity within an ecosystem, the greater its capacity to withstand shocks and disturbances, and to adapt to change. In terms of the Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 14 (Life Below Water) and Goal 15 (Life on Land) are the foundations on which all the other goals rest. If we do not achieve these two goals, we will have no chance of achieving any of the other goals. These goals are largely aimed at improving human lives and giving equal access to food, clean water and sanitation, good health and well-being, affordable and clean energy, education, and work.

The Two Oceans Aquarium’s species

Over 9 178 animals representing over 250 species are accommodated at the Two Oceans Aquarium. The majority of these animals are only found in the ocean surrounding Southern Africa. Of the approximately 100 species of sea bream, 41 species live in Southern African waters, and of these, 25 species are endemic to the area. Many of these species are important in the line fishery, but populations have collapsed due to over-exploitation.

A number of endemic shark species can also be seen in the Aquarium including pyjama shark (Poroderma africanum), puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii), and leopard catshark (Poroderma pantherinum). Sharks play a vital role in maintaining the balance in marine ecosystems and indeed the food chain on which humans are reliant. Other endemic animals include the Knysna seahorse (Hippocampus capensis), African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), African black oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini), many species of invertebrates and sea plants.

Inspiring new ways of thinking

The Two Oceans Aquarium and the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation both hold a mandate to inform and inspire people about the ocean and the life it supports. They also aim to inspire new ways of thinking to enable an appreciation of the links between human behaviour and the wellbeing of the ocean. They need to provide practical actions to lighten our footprint, to play an active role in the conservation of key marine species, and to lead by example.

Learn more about the Coalition, the importance of biodiversity and the CoP15 on social media by following the hashtags #UnitedforBiodiversity #CoP15 #ForNature.

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