To prevent the next deadly disease, we must stop harming nature

The coronavirus pandemic proves it: By damaging the planet, we have sapped nature’s power to protect humanity from diseases.

A wave breaks over the reef crest at Kingman Reef, part of the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Photograph by Enric Sala

Since my childhood by the Mediterranean Sea, I’ve been enchanted by the diversity of life on our planet and eager to learn all I could about it. I’ve spent much of my career studying the ocean food web, where in the course of natural events the smallest of the small are consumed by larger and larger predators, often ending in us. But scientists know there is more to the story, and I’ve been humbled to see life on our planet brought to a standstill by a tiny virus.

From a Wuhan, China, “wet market” where freshly butchered meat and live wild animals are sold for food and medicine, the virus likely was transmitted in late 2019 via wildlife to humans. And in a matter of months, COVID-19 has felled hundreds of thousands of Homo sapiens, Earth’s preeminent predator.

Writing about this for my new book, I was deeply saddened: The virus has struck people I knew, in Europe and around the world. But this pandemic is a powerful argument for something I believe unequivocally: that biodiversity is necessary for human health, and ultimately, human survival.

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