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The status of biodiversity and bioprospecting efforts in the Caribbean subregion

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The status of biodiversity and bioprospecting efforts in the Caribbean subregion

Autor institucional: NU. CEPAL. Sede Subregional para el Caribe Descripción física: 20 p. : tabls. Editorial: ECLAC Fecha: junio 2001 Signatura: LC/CAR/G.650


Introduction Biodiversity, as the name implies, is the term used to describe the differences that exist between and among the various species of organisms on the planet earth. Biodiversity can be measured on a worldwide basis, on a regional basis, on a national basis, as well as on a zonal basis. The interactions of these various species provide the basis for sustaining life, human life in particular. On that basis then, it is of utmost importance that the biodiversity of any area be preserved and this can only be done by a proper understanding of the organisms, their relative positions and interactions, and their contribution to life processes. Unfortunately, the activities of man, the highest form of life in the biodiversity equation, are the most dangerous to the maintenance of the biodiversity equilibrium. In pursuit of food, shelter and economic greed, man has not only changed the natural populations, but the activities of man have also significantly reduced the number of species in a given area through large-scale agricultural activity, poor agronomic practices, poor soil and water conservation measures, wasteful irrigation practices, the introduction of inorganic pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers and packaging materials, deforestation, alterations to the seashore and the concretization" of once low-lying lands. A possibly worse mistake, especially for developing countries, has been the replacement of the word "ecology" with "environment". This replacement has led to a cursory study of the relationships between and among organisms and their environment and has moved to a more confrontational approach to the understanding of these relationships. In addition, an in-depth knowledge of the various organisms interacting in their environment which was a prerequisite for the study of ecology seems to have been lost in the "environment" agenda. Decision-making based on environmental data rather than on ecological studies can be particularly damaging to the very ecosystems that we want to preserve through biodiversity preservation. The best guarantee of biodiversity is to do nothing to the environment. However, that is not an option since man has to find food and shelter. The next best option, therefore, would be to reduce, as much as possible, the effects of our actions on the species and gene pools. It must be pointed out that the provision of basic food and shelter for man is not in itself detrimental to the biodiversity of any region. In fact, that quest for food and shelter may help the process of biodiversity preservation as the natural culling process will establish homeostatic situations in populations. This is part of the natural cycle of growth. It is the excess of food, shelter and economic greed that seriously disturbs the natural balance and leads to habitat degradation that is detrimental to biodiversity preservation. In the Caribbean, especially in the small States of the subregion, it is probably not fully appreciated that tropical ecosystems are more fragile than their temperate counterparts, in that while there is an abundance of species, the relative number of organisms per specie is quite small. Thus, carrying capacity and over-exploitation levels are reached very quickly and changes in specie numbers occur quite dramatically over time. It is in this context that we need to examine the various activities in the subregion to understand their role in the biodiversity equation."