The way of the dinosaurs

| 06/05/2008

By Nicky Watson (Tuesday, 6 May 2008)

1 comment

The brutal and senseless slaying of six Blue Iguanas has touched the
heart of many people in these islands. It is unimaginable to most of
us how anyone could have such utter disrespect for life that they
could simply torture these magnificent and beautiful creaturesto
death, and such disregard for one of the great symbols of the Cayman
Islands.

However, the death of these iguanas represents much more than the loss
of six much loved animals. The dead – Yellow, Pedro, Digger, Eldemire,
Sara and Jessica – were part of a programme to save a critically
endangered species endemic to the Cayman Islands, and many people
involved in the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme have worked diligently
to rescue it from possible extinction.

Meanwhile, the risk of losing endangered plant species and what’s
left of George Town’s ancient forest to make way for a road has
awakened activism in these islands, and a number of people have
pledged to lie down in front of bulldozers if necessary to protect
them. And marine biologists here and elsewhere are working
overtime to understand the amazing corals reefs that breath life
into the oceans and to prevent their apparent decline.

In two weeks time, the world – or at least the part of the world that
cares – will celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity.

“It is said that every human being on Earth owes one breath to forests
and a second to the oceans. The loss of coral reefs and the
destruction of intact forests and mangroves will exacerbate climate
change, biodiversity loss and their impacts,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf,
Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, in a
message to the world for the occasion last year.

Human activity is causing species to become extinct a hundred times
faster than the rate shown in the fossil record. In fact, scientist
are now classifying this period, the one we are living in right now,
as the sixth great dying, in which we are losing species quicker than
at any time since dinosaurs exited the earth forever. Extinction rates
are rising by a factor of up to 1,000 above natural rates. Every hour,
three species disappear. Every day, up to 150 species are lost. Every
year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct.

Following last year’s UN report, Global Environment Outlook (GEO) 4,
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director,
said, “The systematic destruction of the Earth’s natural and nature-
based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of
economies is being challenged and where the bill we hand on to our
children may prove impossible to pay.”

The Cayman Islands government has, to an extent, responded to some of
these challenges with the tabling in the Legislative Assembly of the
draft National Conservation Bill in March 2007, with
an invitation for public input. The draft bill includes, among other
measures, greater protection for endangered and endemic species, the
establishment of terrestrial protected areas (similar to marine
parks), and mechanisms to better manage and fund conservation efforts.

Amazingly, however, the bill has still not been passed, and though
MLAs find the time in the Legislative Assembly to debate whether to
criminalize the burning of the National Flag, the real symbols of the
Cayman Islands – its unique and fragile flora and fauna – are allowed
to slip away. Today’s politicians are charged with preserving these
islands in all their splendour for the generations of
tomorrow, and lip service is simply not good enough.

The vandals that killed the iguanas, if caught, will face a maximum of
a few thousand dollars in fines and a year in prison. If the National
Conservation bill had been passed into law, they would be facing a
possible fine of $500,000 and five years in prison – a far greater
deterrent. But loss of habitat, just as much as inadequate
protection, is a death sentence for endangered
plants and animals.

The foot-dragging in the House is as destructive in its way
as the boots that stomped the life out of the Blue Iguanas last
weekend.

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Claudette Upton: Well said. And with every species we
lose, with every square foot of concrete that covers what once was
bush, we lose a little bit more of something essential: our reverence
for life. As a species, the human race needs nature as much as any
four-legged, winged, or finned creature. Hatred for other, “lesser”
species, and violence in general, are less likely to arise, I believe,
in a world–a country–an island–where nature is respected and
honoured. I hope it isn’t too late for Grand Cayman.

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