Save 587 sites to save life, urge scientists

October 26th, 2010 - 11:28 pm ICT by IANS  

By Joydeep Gupta
Nagoya (Japan), Oct 26 (IANS) With animals and plants disappearing fast, scientists have made a plea to save 587 sites around the globe that are home to 920 species on the brink of extinction.

Addressing delegates from 192 countries gathered here for the Oct 18-29 UN biodiversity summit, the scientists - under the umbrella of the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) - Tuesday said if these places were properly protected, that could help avert an imminent global extinction crisis.

Putting together efforts of a network of hundreds of scientists and conservationists around the world, American Bird Conservancy Vice President and AZE Chair Mike Parr said: “AZE enables us to instantly pinpoint the locations of the world’s key wildlife extinction epicentres. It allows us to see at a glance where we need to focus efforts to prevent imminent extinctions and preserve earth’s precious biodiversity.”

At present, only half of the sites identified enjoy any formal protection, and of those, half are only partially protected. “Protecting the remaining unprotected AZE sites through locally appropriate means, is an urgent strategic global biodiversity conservation priority,” added Parr.

Said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): “Identifying where species are at greatest risk will help all of us engaged in the fight to save biodiversity.”

Scientists say their report provides a straightforward means for countries and international donors such as the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank to cost-effectively address the issue of imminent species loss.

AZE was formed in 2000 to further efforts to prevent imminent species extinctions by identifying and safeguarding places where species evaluated to be endangered and critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for inclusion on their Red List of Threatened Species, are restricted to single remaining sites.

AZE has identified sites for mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, conifers, and reef-building corals, providing a strategic tool to defend against many of the most predictable species losses.

Protecting an AZE site can often prevent multiple extinctions, since some of these sites host more than one threatened species.

“Urgent action to safeguard these sites makes sense in so many ways,” said Parr. “Decisions taken at the Nagoya meeting need to provide the momentum to make this happen.”

The sites with the most AZE species are the Sierra de Juarez with 22 species, and Veracruz volcanoes with 16 species, both in Mexico. Massif de la Hotte, Haiti is third with 15 species, followed by Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park, Colombia, with 12 species.

The countries with the most AZE sites are Mexico (68), Colombia (46), Peru (34), Indonesia (31), Brazil (27), and China (23).

The importance of protecting these sites is shown by the way protected areas help conserve plants and animals. CBD expert Sharad Gidda pointed out that they maintain key habitats, provide refuges, allow species migration and ensure the maintenance of natural processes across the landscape.

Protected areas provide livelihood for nearly 1.1 billion people, are the primary source of drinking water for over a third of the world’s largest cities and are a major factor in ensuring global food security, by protecting fisheries, wild crop relatives, and the ecosystems services upon which agriculture depends.

Gidda said a recent summary of global implementation found that since 2004, nearly 6,000 new protected areas have been established, covering over 60 million hectares. There are now about 130,000 protected areas, covering nearly 13 percent of the world’s terrestrial surface, and over six percent of territorial marine areas.

However, there are still some areas that are lagging behind. “The social costs and benefits of protected areas, the effective participation of indigenous and local communities and the diversification of various governance types need more commitment and resolute actions,” the expert from India pointed out.

Each year 13 million hectares of forest are lost by conversion to other land uses, or degraded, according to Gidda. The main driver of deforestation is conversion to agriculture, which itself is linked to growing global demand for meat and for biofuel crops.

Other human activities that greatly weaken forests and reduce the services they provide to us include man-made fires, unsustainable bushmeat hunting; infrastructure development, mining and oil exploitation; pollution and climate change.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at joydeepgupta1@gmail.com)

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