Oxford. 16 November 2007. The polar regions were voted the most important ecosystem on earth in last night's debate, Precious Resources, Multiple Threats, hosted by Earthwatch at London's Royal Geographical Society.
"The largely unexplored polar regions are the most isolated parts of the planet, home to 40 cm sea spiders and sea sponges large enough to climb inside," argued Prof. Lloyd Peck from the British Antarctic Survey. "Two vast areas of the Antarctic, each the size of Ireland, remain completely unexplored by scientists."
His opponents stated the case for freshwater, oceans, forests and mountains during an entertaining and thought-provoking evening chaired by Alastair Fothergill, co-director of the BBC's new feature film Earth and producer of the Planet Earth series.
The audience, members of the public and Earthwatch supporters, were allocated a fictitious one trillion dollars and invited to vote for the ecosystem they considered most deserving of the funds. While acknowledging that all ecosystems are inextricably linked, the debate was designed to challenge the speakers and enlighten the audience by posing difficult questions and taxing dilemmas.
Dr. Yadvinder Malhi from Oxford University came a close second after he presented a persuasive argument in defence of the world's forests, convincing 30 per cent of the 700 strong audience to vote for the lungs of the earth.
However, it was hard-hitting images of melting polar icecaps and threatened polar bears that stole the show, alongside a powerful message from Peck that polar regions are the most rapidly changing places on earth, and the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. "If we do not try to learn about them now, we will never have the chance."
His argument was pertinent to International Polar Year 2007, which aims to determine the role the Arctic and Antarctic play in climate change. In the words of Prof. Dr. Reinhard Dietrich (President of the German Commission for the International Polar Year), "Now that one of the largest international research campaigns in our polar regions is about to begin, it is a once in a lifetime chance. It is only when we understand global climate that we can make good predictions, and thus prepare for possible changes."
Rob McInnes, Head of Wetland Conservation for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, argued that wetlands are our most valuable natural asset, as despite covering only six per cent of the earth's surface, they store 35 per cent of the world's carbon. Dr. Matt Frost, from the Marine Biological Association, made the case for our oceans, teeming with life but largely undiscovered, and Prof. Martin Price, the world's first professor of Mountain Studies from Perth College, made a strong case that without mountains all of the other represented ecosystems would be in grave danger.
The debate is hosted annually by Earthwatch at the Royal Geographical Society and, along with a series of lectures by Earthwatch scientists, is open to all. Earthwatch would like to thank the Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe and Africa for their generous support.
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