Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Earth Day this year comes with the theme on species protection to remind us that it is with other species that we have long evolved, and it is from their diversity that we thrive.
The Sixth Mass Extinction
One of the things that make Earth an amazing planet is the 8.7 million species of lifeforms that call it home. The majority of plant and animal species that we know today have been in existence long before humans, and scientists have only catalogued less than 15% of species alive today, despite centuries of effort. For example, only 7% of the predicted number of fungi, and less than 10% of the lifeforms in the oceans have been identified. Already, scientists and conservationists are fearing that we might not be in time to identify and conserve the non-human lifeforms on Earth before they are extinct, without us knowing.
Many scientists argue that we are currently undergoing the sixth mass extinction, and not without reasons: species are becoming extinct at an alarmingly faster rate, with decreasing population in half of known vertebrate species, and over 40% of the 177 mammal species studied experiencing severe population declines.
Unlike the previous mass extinctions, the sixth mass extinction is caused by humans. Current rates of species extinction are about 100 to 1,000 times higher than in pre-human times. While many species of lifeforms were able to weather previous mass extinctions, they may not be able to regenerate after the sixth mass extinction, for which human-caused factors such as climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides, and over-exploitation for economic gains are responsible. Moving locations is no longer an option for animals who are confined to the spaces left by humans, so they will likely just die off, and it could take 10 million years for Earth’s species to recover.
Why Protect Our Species?
Earth Day this year comes with the theme on species protection to remind us that it is with other species that we have long evolved, and it is from their diversity that we thrive: the basis for all life on Earth comes from plants’ conversion of energy from the sun; the fruits and vegetables we eat, or feed to the animals that we eat, are the results of pollination by bees and other insects; carbon sequestration by plants, which capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it into the soil to sustain plant life. It would be hubris to think that humans will continue to thrive as biodiversity shrinks at a disturbing rate.
If measured by the dry weight of the carbon that makes up the structure of all living things, also known as biomass, humans add up to just one ten-thousandth of the life on Earth, almost negligible when compared to plants, which make up over 80% of the Earth’s biomass. Yet the fact that we have wreaked this level of havoc on life on Earth in the past 10,000 years alone means that we also have the ability to turn things around. But we need to take drastic measures now.
How Can the Hospitality Industry Protect the Earth’s Species?
From the food in the restaurant and wood used for furniture and fittings, to the copious flora and fauna in parks and green spaces, biodiversity is important in all aspects of a hotel business, and biodiversity is negatively impacted throughout all the different stages of a hotel’s life-cycle, from planning to construction and operations. There are many reasons for a hotel business to implement nature conservation practices, as it will benefit from customer engagement, cost reduction, revenue increase as a result of improved quality of destination, and many more.
Simple measures can go a long way in saving our species while benefiting the hotel:
Hotels in New York, Taipei, London, Vancouver are setting up bee farms or bee hotels to help the fast diminishing honeybees, and in return, the hotels get to harvest fresh, good quality honey for their food and beverage menus. (But before you go about building a bee hotel on your hotel’s rooftop, know that amateur beekeeping can do more harm than good, but there are ways to maximize pollinator potential in the outdoor spaces at your properties.)
Across AccorHotels’ properties, half of the laundry savings are channeled into reforestation projects that support sustainable agriculture, the produce from which is bought by the hotels to be used at their restaurants.
The Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts have built two marine labs to focus on coral reef conservation and education; and Aqua-Aston Hospitality gives out coral reef-safe sunscreen that is free of oxybenzone, a chemical that decreases corals’ defense against bleaching, damages their DNA, and hurts their development.
Wilderness Safaris runs a turtle monitoring and protection program at the nesting site near one of its conservation initiatives, Rocktail Beach Camp, and the program has contributed to increased populations of the leatherback and loggerhead turtles.
At Six Senses, products derived from endangered animals or plants are banned from the resort shops. The luxury resort and spa group also works with underprivileged communities to reduce poverty, by offering them an alternative source of income through the production of more ethical souvenirs.
From the food you serve at your restaurants, the materials you source for your hotel’s furniture and fittings, the souvenirs you sell at your shops, to the local tour advice you give to your guests, every action by you as a hotelier can cause significant changes for the better or worse to the nature and its biodiversity. Conserving nature is to create a sustainable future for your business. Learn more about the why and how of biodiversity conservation by the hospitality industry, and the good practices by other hotel businesses, in Biodiversity: my hotel in action, a guide produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on the sustainable use of biological resources.