Value of Biodiversity

Biodiversity makes a difference—to your heart, your health and your pocketbook. Two reports in the last few weeks have added to the research that caring for nature is caring for ourselves. Nature affects human happiness, health, and, directly for the Caribbean, economic well-being.

Health. The same environment that sustains us also gives rise to disease through parasites and vector-borne illnesses. A new study from Harvard Medical School researcher Matthew Bonds says that as the number of species goes down, disease in humans will go up.

Bonds’ study showed a decrease of just 15% in biodiversity in a nation such as Indonesia would increase disease by about 30%. The increase occurs because having more species provides more ways that disease is diluted and potentially disrupted, according to Bonds. For example, the more mammals such as mice and squirrels that can host a tick carrying Lyme disease, the more diluted the risk is to humans.

Disease rates also affect a country’s economic development, the study showed.

Economics. At the same time, WKICS and the IVM Institute for Environmental Studies at VU University in Amsterdam released a final report this month concluding from a multiyear study that nature in Bonaire drives about half of the island’s GDP, with a value to the economy of US$100 million annually. The study totaled the values of tourism ($50 million), local recreation and culture ($3.9 million), support to fisheries ($1.1 million), research and educational services ($1.4 million), coastal protection ($0.1 million), and the values enjoyed by people ($15.5 million per month).

The benefits to other parts of the Caribbean were not part of the study, but the same principles can be extended across the islands to prove the value of nature preservation.

Happiness. A National Geographic exploration of communities around the world where people rate highly on researchers’ scales for “thriving” — being happy and expecting future well-being — found that these communities include ways for people to connect to nature as a routine part of their lives. Places where people rated highly on World Values Surveys and the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index, among other surveys, were termed blue zones, and a team of demographers, scientists and journalists traveled there to determine what common elements might be contributing to people’s happiness. The results were reported in a book, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.

Interestingly, the author of Thrive concludes that beyond the point where basic needs are met, income has no effect on happiness. However, “green” space was a factor: “One of the biggest casualties of sprawl is recreation. A gym just can’t replace convenient access to parks, hiking trails, mountain-biking trails, and wildlife preserves—beautiful areas both to enjoy and to get the body moving,” the author writes.

At a time when as many as a third of the world’s species are threatened with extinction, conservation efforts are proving more essential. The bottom line is: Human beings need to protect nature to protect themselves. Our future happiness relies on it.

For more information, see:
Bonds, M. H., Dobson A. P., & Keenan D. C. (2012). Disease Ecology, Biodiversity,
and the Latitudinal Gradient in Income. PLoS Biology, 10(12): e1001456.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001456

Buettner, D. (2010). Thrive: Finding happiness the blue zones way. Washington, DC:
National Geographic Society.

IVM Institute for Environmental Studies. (2012). What’s Bonaire’s nature
worth: the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity on Bonaire. Available at
www.ivm.vu.nl/en/projects/Projects/economics/Bonaire/index.asp

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