Biodiversity is life itself, from the tiniest elements to the largest ecosystems. It is all around us, in the air we breathe, the soil that feeds us and in every drop of water – this year’s theme for the International Day of Biological Diversity.
“How inappropriate to call this planet earth, when it is quite clearly ocean,” said writer Arthur C. Clark. And he was right. In addition to covering over 70% of the earth’s surface, the ocean is also home to the planet’s tiniest and most ancient inhabitants, that remain a pillar of life today – plankton.
We may not give them much thought, but plankton is vital. Thousands of varieties each play an important role and the balance between them allows for marine life to sustain itself. By transforming CO2 into Oxygen, plankton also provide 60 to 80% of the oxygen we breathe. Studies have shown that some populations are dropping as a result of climate change and warming seas, threatening the entire chain of ocean life. If a plankton variety disappears, so do the fish species that have adapted to feed on them.
All the food chains that uphold the world’s incredible biodiversity of flora and fauna are fragile and human use of plants, animals and fish must be finely attuned to maintaining that balance. Traditional food systems and artisan production show what man is capable of creating from this diversity: a huge variety products and crafts, each one of them the result of the deep knowledge of a local, specific biodiversity and understanding of its limits.
But today these food traditions are threatened by the steady advance of homogenization. The loss of artisan skills and environmental stewardship prompted Slow Food to launch the Ark of Taste; a place to identify and catalogue small-scale quality products, edible plant species and animal breeds that belong to the culture, history and traditions of specific communities.
From smoked blue fish caught in the Bay of Biscay, Spain to net-caught Noli anchovies in the Mediterranean or bay scallops from USA’s Atlantic Coast, each of the Aquatic Ark products is linked to a unique coastal culture and history, as well as a specific way of working that maintains local biodiversity.
Essentially, biodiversity is what sustains not only our food supply – through the robustness of diversity – but also our cultures and livelihoods. Our ability to hold onto small-scale food production and maintain artisan skills relies on healthy ecosystems and are the basis of healthy local economies. The pressing question for the future of water biodiversity is: will we continue to focus on maximizing productivity at all costs, seeking the largest possible scale and using less and less manpower, or will we change our approach, merging traditional and technology to study and use biodiversity responsibly and maintain balance.
A balance that ultimately, must allow us to exist on this planet Ocean.