The Earthwatch debate is a public debate which sees eminent scientists battling it out to have their endangered species declared the world’s most invaluable species. Besides the honour of being named “world’s most invaluable species” comes a fictitious one trillion dollar cheque to be spent on their conservation.
The debate is a much-anticipated event every year, attended by the general public who listen attentively to the cases put forward by the scientists. There is a vigorous question and answer period for the audience followed by the vote. An option buffet follows for those eager to continue the debate amongst themselves.
This year there were five endangered species represented by five of Britain’s most eminent scientists. They were:
Bats - Dr. Kate Jones, the Zoological Society of London
Bees - Dr. George McGavin, Honorary Research Associate, Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Fungi - Prof. Lynne Boddy, Cardiff School of Biosciences
Plankton - Prof. David Thomas, School of Ocean Sciences, University of Bangor
Primates - Ian Redmond OBE, Chairman of the Ape Alliance
The evening was chaired by Andrea Catherwood, award-winning broadcaster and TV presenter.
Deciding that they didn’t want a world without honey, flowers and a third of everything we eat including chocolate and coffee, the audience voted to save the bees.
Without bees 250,000 species of flowering plants would not get pollinated. Many of these are crucial to world agriculture. The yields of approximately 90 crops are increased by up to 30% (including many of my favourites, such as apples, blueberries and cucumbers). Without bees, these fruits and vegetables would become scarce and therefore tremendously expensive.
Bees also pollinate many of the plants that provide both our conventional and alternative medicines; the cotton plant that provides the cheap t-shirt and jeans; they feed birds and small mammals by pollinating the berries and seeds they feed on; they feed the omnivores and carnivores by feeding the birds and small mammals they eat; and so on up the food chain.
We could survive on wind-pollinated grains and fish; but, there would be wars for control of dwindling food supplies. South America's ancient Mayan civilization is thought to have died of starvation. The veneer of civilization is very, very thin when comes to things like survival.
Although other insects and animals do pollinate – such as bats, butterflies and even wasps – none is designed like the bee as a pollinator machine.
While there are 20,000 bee species around the world, honey bees are most valuable to mankind. Honeybees live in huge colonies of up 50,000 in the summer months, pollinate many different plant species (multi-taskers) and their ability to be managed, manipulated and transported by man makes them the most valuable pollinator of all winged pollinators.
Unfortunately, bees are in serious trouble all over the globe. There has been such a decline in their numbers that …well, they’ve just been named “world’s most invaluable species, haven’t they?
Industrialized farming with its monocultures and pesticides has destroyed biodiversity robbing the majority of bees of their habitat and food sources. Across the globe the western honeybee – bred for its gentle nature and prolific honey making and pollination capacity – is plagued by parasites and viruses. If that isn’t enough, modern agricultural practices jeopardize their continued survival.
More than a third of honeybees were wiped out in the US this year by Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease which is thought to be a combination of these assailants.
As Dr George McGavin, who was batting for the bees said: "Bee populations are in freefall. A world without bees would be totally catastrophic."
Bravo to the forward-thinking Earthwatch audience who had the foresight to vote for the bees. (I can see you smiling from here K.)