Earthwatch Lecture, London, March 2012
From the forest to the ocean: how protected areas can positively impact species conservation.
An audience of over 450 enjoyed two talks from leading Earthwatch scientists at London's Royal Geographical Society on Thursday evening, 15 March.
Professors Luke Dollar and John Cigliano speaking at the Earthwatch lecture
Addressing the challenge of conserving endangered species through the enforcement of protected areas, Professor Luke Dollar and Professor John Cigliano shared the impacts of their work in Madagascar and Belize respectively.
Describing Madagascar as an ‘evolutionary petri-dish’, Dollar spoke of the rapid decline of many of the unique species that are endemic to the country. Protected areas, he argued, are essential not only to sustain threatened habitats, but also human populations that depend on the natural resources that Madagascar’s forests provide.
The focus of Dollar’s research is the little-known fosa - Madagascar’s only natural mammalian apex predator, endemic to the island. Dollar drew on over a decade of data collected by over 300 Earthwatch volunteers. He observed “It is not necessarily the protected areas in themselves that make a difference to the conservation of endangered species, but rather the increased level of human presence in those protected areas that discourage activities such as illegal logging.”
“The simple presence of the many teams of Earthwatch volunteers that work with us in the National Park serves as a deterrent”, continued Dollar.
An interview with Earthwatch scientist, Professor Luke Dollar
Professor John Cigliano’s research by contrast focuses on the marine environment. The urgency of his work was illustrated with a stark warning that close to 80% of the world’s fisheries that have been assessed, are at or close to their maximum sustainable limits or past those limits, with some already collapsed or economically extinct.
Alongside Earthwatch volunteers, Cigliano has spent five years monitoring populations of the queen conch in Belize’s Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. The queen conch is a species of marine mollusc, of great importance within the marine ecosystem, but also economically and culturally to the Belizean people.
“My project was set up in response to the needs and inputs of the local community”, explains Cigliano. “We are fortunate to be able to draw on several years of data about the status of populations before the marine protected area was enforced. We are now beginning to contrast those findings with similar recordings post-enforcement. We need a few more years’ data to be able to draw solid conclusions, but preliminary analysis suggests that the reserve is indeed making a positive difference to density, size, and average age of conch within the protected zones of the reserve, and possibly the unprotected zones as well.”
Over the course of the evening, both speakers addressed many of the greatest environmental challenges we face today. In spite of this, the audience left with a sense of optimism on hearing about the significant positive impacts that these two projects are having not only on wildlife and habitats, but also in providing economic and educational opportunities to local populations to sustain the conservation efforts into the future.
Professor John Cigliano speaks about monitoring queen conch in Belize
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