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World Parks Congress Wraps Up Talks in S. Africa


The World Parks Congress has ended in South Africa with delegates pleased they achieved some of the goals they have set in the past, but also concerned about the work that remains to be done to protect the world's natural areas.

Delegates to the World Parks Congress in Durban learned that they achieved their goal, set 20 years ago, of establishing parks or protected areas on 10 percent of the Earth's land surface. The goal was to ensure the preservation of biodiversity in species and in habitats.

But the Vice president of Conservation International, Gustavo Fonseca, says advances in science in the past 10 years have shown that the location of protected areas is even more important than previously thought. "In this congress we brought together several hundred scientists and conservationists and social scientists to really address the fact that the system is far from complete, meaning that no matter how successful this goal has been of bringing 10 percent of the surface of the planet under protection, we are still far away from representing all the priorities for biodiversity as represented by species conservation and habitat conservation," he says.

Mr. Fonseca, a zoologist and ecologist, says studies have shown that species and habitat diversity is most severely threatened by expanding human populations on tropical islands. "Islands in the tropics make a particular deadly combination as far as biodiversity is concerned," he says. "And those are the ones that are faring the worst and in greatest need of immediate establishment of protected areas."

Less than one percent of the world's oceans is currently protected, and scientific knowledge of the marine environment and its species is extremely limited. Professor Fonseca says this lack of knowledge is a severe handicap. "And this is in a moment when most of the fisheries in the world have declined sharply and we are experiencing major coral reef die-offs and at the same time we have less ability and less experience in establishing and managing protected areas in the oceans than we have for the land," he says.

But Professor Fonseca says there have been positive developments also. He says many governments have come to the realization that development and progress must go hand-in-hand with habitat and species protection. He says the next challenge for governments and private enterprise will be to find $25 billion to adequately manage these initiatives during the next 10 years.