Thursday, September 4, 2014

What's this minnow worth?

An unknown species of Minnow Phoxinus from a spring in Eastern Thrace
(image provided by Serdar DÜŞEN & Gürçay Kıvanç Akyıldız).
What is this minnow worth?

Some ways to answer, in all honesty:

1) The value of a single species should be accounted for not by money but by time. Evolutionary time and more!

I was sent this photo of a little minnow (...a Phoxinus minnow, still unclassified, unidentified...). It lives in a cold water spring in the headwaters of the Ergene river, NW Turkey (Trakya). It has probably been there for thousands of years, surviving in the special cool-water springs....If they dry-up, become polluted or vanish, the minnows will vanish.

2) Each species is part of our natural heritage. If you know so little about your history, your natural heritage, you do not appreciate values other than monetary. Biodiversity loss is a desecration of heritage.

3) Extinction is a loss of a treasure of natural selection, of genetic adaptation, of ecological relationships within an ecosystem....It has taken millenia to develop these resources and natural networks; do we have any right to exterminate a product of evolution?

3) This small fish is a rarity. For this reason alone its value far outweighs many commonplace human achievements (e.g. irrigation networks). The fish lives in a tiny bit of paradise which is also rarity in the landscape: the cool-water spring. Some people will then ask "How much is a spring ecosystem worth?"  The spring is useful to humans, it provides "ecosystem services"....(surely we can re-construct it elsewhere...easy engineering...). But people will drink it up and exploit it if someone doesn't speak out. The fish is one of many reasons to speak out! Common-sense economistic "ecosystem services" won't save the micro-spring....

4) In scientific terms, the fish can recite a biology, a history, a geography. It is a wider indicator of climatic, geologic and hydrological conditions and resources. Its sanctuary, the natural spring, is a part of a "historical monument" - an oasis-like biotope. And the fish is only a small part of the ecosystem it lives in. Saving the fish, saves a whole ecosystem. The scientists - naturalists can describe the spring in detail. (Just like archeologists describe a historical monument). Trust the scientists, they spend their lives describing species and places. And laws that protect this fish and its place are built on this scientific understanding.

5) A spring without its tiny minnows loses half its fascination. Knowing about the fish, observing it in its waters offers sensations and emotions so deep that they give value....and quality to life,  to our lives. Without the fish, its native habitat would seem half dead.

6) Someone needs to speak for the fish....And I for one feel it is my privilege to participate. To confront the question: what is it worth? What a shallow and sterile economistic view of life on Earth!

I feel there is an intrinsic value here that we must appreciate more than any monetary values. The naturally evolving brilliance of wildness; the uniqueness of life-forms. This is the major incentive in acting to defend the fish and this little paradise that sustains it. And yes, nature conservation is a cultural act. Without cultural development no one can understand intrinsic values. Without understanding you cannot see the beauty, or the spirit of the meaning; or the love. It is after all, for the love of a place and its inhabitants, that is why we work in conservation.

A famous Turkish spring, the "Aulocrene" of classical literature, near the Anatolian town of Dinar; it is now called Karakuyu Gölü. Its waters are crystal clear and cold! Places like this are hot spots for aquatic biodiversity. 

I thank Dr. Serdar DÜŞEN and Dr. Gürçay Kıvanç Akyıldız for 
supplying me with the minnow photo - it is one of many such photos I recieve for idntification. 

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