"Life on earth is possible because of biodiversity found in ecosystems diversity, species diversity, genetic diversity. Unfortunately, India has become the land of diversity and destruction."

He is very keen on exploring the aquatic world and had worked closely with the Indian Navy as a scuba diver.As a Zoologist and a person concerned with environment, he displays a profound knowledge of biodiversity and does not lose time in initiating measures to conserve it. Having ancestral roots in Rajamundhry, he has worked as Coordinator, Scientist E and Officer in Charge, Marine Biological Station, Zoological Survey of India. He is involved in environment assessment of Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project. He is also the Joint Director of Coral Reef Studies and currently the Member Secretary of National Biodiversity Authority, Government of India. Meet the multifaceted personality, Dr. K. Venkataraman, who shares his views on biodiversity conservation with J.V. Siva Prasanna Kumar, during his visit to the Temple City to address a workshop on biodiversity conservation.

Can plants and animals exist without humans?

Yes, claims Dr. Venkataraman. "But, unfortunately, human beings cannot survive without them," he says.

Fishermen and tribals are the primary conservers of biodiversity in the country. Accounting for more than 50,000 varieties of rice and millets, India possesses myriad species of flora and fauna.

Nearly 90 per cent of aquatic ecosystems are intact and vibrant. India, in fact, has different kinds of ecosystems such as desert ecosystem, island ecosystem, forest, wetlands, mangroves, estuaries and mountains, he points out.

"Life on earth is possible because of biodiversity found in ecosystems diversity, species diversity, genetic diversity. Unfortunately, India has become the land of diversity and destruction," he laments.

There are nearly 90,000 animal species and about 45,000 plant species.

The number is not exact because of the absence of specialised research on the topic, he says.

He also cites lack of protective mechanism as the reason for sea erosion.

"The original shoreline of Marina Beach, Chennai, was 35 km inside the sea in the past. But due to constant wave action and absence of a protective mechanism the sea has encroached into the land."

The coral reefs and mangroves are capable of fortifying the shores by arresting the intensity of rough waves including tsunamis.

Opining that the whole of south India would become vulnerable if tsunami struck again, Dr. Venkataraman advocates raising mangroves in coastal areas and simultaneously initiating measures to protect coral reefs because biodiversity is imperative for human survival, economic development and ecological balance.

Threats to biodiversity

Oil spills, use of trawl nets and other destructive fishing practices, poaching of elephants and tigers, letting out sewage into the sea, mindless destruction of forests and over exploitation of resources for commercial gains are some of the threats to biodiversity.

These can be tackled only through awareness, he asserts, adding population explosion, poverty and illiteracy are the other factors that abet over exploitation of resources. "Of course, destruction is even resorted to in the name of development, in introducing alien plant or animal species and the irresponsible practices of certain industries."

He holds the US as the major culprit for emitting carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere causing global warming.

Nearly 65 per cent of CO2 emissions are from the US, he says, adding, global warming would have harmful effect on the life on earth, particularly on coral reefs -- the storehouse of biodiversity - resulting in their destruction.

Need for awareness

Though Government can enact legislations to conserve biodiversity and prevent bio-piracy, biodiversity can be conserved only when people are educated in a proper manner.

While the media can contribute by exposing the ill effects of destroying biodiversity and also highlight the importance of conserving biodiversity, the teaching community can encourage students and researchers to actively involve in measures aimed at shielding biodiversity.

Non-governmental organisations and environmentalists too can play an active role in educating people on the importance of conservation.

The State Government can form State Biodiversity Boards (SBB) and establish Biodiversity Management Committees and both, in consultation with the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), can decide on issues pertaining to bio-resource or related knowledge within their jurisdiction.

He says nine States across the country have formed SBBs and Tamil Nadu is in the draft stage. States that have formed the boards are eligible for one time grant of Rs.10 lakh from NBA. Further, SBBs can promote biodiversity heritage sites to facilitate biodiversity management and protection through people's participation.

Unless people are told that destroying resources tantamounts to committing suicide, policing through enactment of laws will not serve any purpose.

He believes that collective and coordinated efforts with Government's labour in conservation are required.

If not, the days are not far when man will become an endangered species.