Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) is part of an international group of scientists who published a joint letter in the June 17 issue of Science, just prior to the next round of international negotiations on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (June 21-26 in Nairobi, Kenya). As negotiations continue toward a new agreement to protect biodiversity, this collaborative letter highlights the broad impacts of chemical pollution on ecosystems and urges more attention to the immense diversity of chemicals and other contaminants that pollute the environment and adversely impact biodiversity.
The lead authors, Gabriel Sigmund, Ph.D. (University of Vienna) and Ksenia Groh, Ph.D. (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology; EAWAG, Switzerland), comment that, "Although the draft agreement mentions chemical pollution, it falls short on a number of important points by limiting itself to nutrients, pesticides, and plastics, while many chemicals of high concern and importance are left out of the equation."
Among the plethora of polluting chemicals and other contaminants that are not currently considered in the draft agreement are heavy metals such as mercury, a persistent pollutant that is highly toxic to humans and wildlife.
"BRI has been conducting research on the effects of mercury on wildlife and ecosystems for more than 30 years," says BRI executive director David Evers, Ph.D., who contributed to the joint letter. "The work of the Convention on Biological Diversity highlights BRI's rapidly expanding role to link biodiversity related issues with the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The need to include mercury monitoring in a global biodiversity framework is imperative for the health of all ecosystems and the people and wildlife that inhabit them."
The Minamata Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. BRI has partnered with numerous UN agencies, countries and their ministries, IGOs, and NGOs around the world to study mercury exposure to people and the environment, and to help meet the goals of the Minamata Convention.
"The failure of specifically broadening the scope of Target 7 (the list of chemical pollutants) to include other pollutants such as toxic metals (such as mercury) and industrial chemicals would signify a huge missed opportunity to address chemical pollution in a comprehensive manner," says Manoela Pessoa de Miranda, Ph.D., programme management officer, Secretariat of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. "There are well established monitoring networks that have been generating global toxic concentration data for decades. There is no reason to not include the wealth of readily available information that can identify and describe potential damage to human health, ecosystems, and biodiversity."
The letter calls for a collaborative effort among interdisciplinary research teams to comprehensively address the complex interactions of toxic chemicals in the environment. Neither the scientific community nor funding agencies have yet fully recognized or adequately responded to this need as biodiversity plummets in many areas of the world.