04 March 19 - Source: Myanmar Times - "Life below water: for people and planet" was the theme of World Wildlife Day 2019, which was celebrated on Sunday to raise awareness about the world's wild animals and plants.
"The theme means that marine diversity is also very important to conserve for sustaining life in the world," said U Ohn Win, Myanmar's minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.
This year's theme focussed on marine species for the first time since the day become a global celebration in 2013, when the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 3 UN World Wildlife Day to mark the signing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The ocean contains nearly 200,000 identified species, but the actual number may be in the millions. Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at US$3 trillion per year, about 5 percent of global GDP. Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Marine wildlife has sustained human civilisation and development for millennia, from providing food and
nourishment, to material for handicrafts and construction. It has also enriched our lives culturally, spiritually, and recreationally in different ways.
Marine resources play an important role in the development of Myanmar, with its long coastline and large marine territory, but there is very little awareness about conserving the country's marine resources.
"In Myanmar, most people living in coastal areas and the delta depend on fishing and marine diversity," U Thein Aung, head of the Myanmar Bird and Nature Society, said. "But awareness of conservation and marine diversity in Myanmar is still weak."
The marine research vessel RV Dr Fridtjof Nansen, owned by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, visited Myanmar's waters in 1979, 1980, 2013, and 2015 primarily to measure fish resources at the start and end of the monsoon season.
The study showed that from 1979-1980 to 2013 there was a decline of fish stocks in the country's waters. Pelagic fish decreased 90pc, while demersal fish fell 75pc, according to the research. In 2015, pelagic fish increased 77pc and demersal fish rose 40pc, according to the rough calculations of the researchers.
An official count has recorded 578 species of marine fish, 287 species of coral, 230 species of marine invertebrates, 71 species of rays, 57 species of sharks, 50 species of gastropods, 41 species of bivalves, 42 species of crab, 136 species of phytoplankton, 150 species of zooplankton, 47 species of meroplankton, 12 species of seagrass, and 38 species of seaweed in Myanmar's waters.
Threat to wildlife
Dolphins, sharks, dugongs and sea lions are threatened worldwide because of increasing consumption and overfishing.
However, the biggest issue that threatens to destroy marine diversity are the estimated 1 million pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, experts said.
It isn't just marine life that is under threat. According to U Ohn Win, many endangered species, such as tigers, elephants, and deer are threatened by the illegal wildlife trade.
On Sunday, Myanmar Forest Department officials destroyed wildlife parts worth US$1.1 million (K1.66 billion) that were seized in the past year at the Yangon Zoological Garden to raise awareness about conservation and the damage caused by the illegal wildlife trade to the country's environment and animals.
There is especially high demand in Myanmar's illegal wildlife trade for elephant, turtle, snake, pangolin and bear parts. Elephant poaching remains rampant in Bago, Ayeyarwady, and Yangon regions despite an intense government campaign against poachers.
The first elephant museum was also officially opened to the public at Yangon zoo on Sunday to mark World Wildlife Day.
The museum, housed at the Natural Historical Museum, aims to help people understand the importance of wild and domesticated elephants to Myanmar's economy, culture and traditions. It also tries to educate people about the threats to elephants, such as poaching and the destruction of forests, which is their natural habitat.
The country has about 1500 wild elephants and 5000 domesticated elephants.
The museum displays photographs of elephants taken through the years, as well as their bones and body parts, and explores the different roles that the elephants has played in the lives of Myanmar people from earliest times to the present.
"We hope more people will learn to love and care about elephants after visiting the museum," Daw Nu Mra Zan, adviser to the museum, said.
The museum is supported by the World Wildlife Fund-Myanmar and the Forest Department, which manages the facility.