If you’ve been following our blog recently, you know by now that among Conservation International’s (CI) goals for the Convention on Biological Diversity are the protection of 25 percent of terrestrial and freshwater areas and 15 percent of marine territories by 2020.
But how can we protect biodiversity without sacrificing human interests? Finding the balance between these needs can be challenging, yet we are seeing mounting evidence that conservation and human activities can—and must—go hand in hand.
Take this recent example from the South Pacific. Over the past two years, scientists from CI and staff from Samoa’s Ministry of Environment worked together to identify:
- the ideal set of terrestrial and marine conservation areas that include habitat for all threatened species in the country;
- the geographic gaps in the current conservation area network compared to the ideal set of conservation areas; and
- the knowledge gap that must be filled to better manage key sites for conservation.
This work has culminated in a summary report, published in English and Samoan and entitled, “Priority Sites for Conservation in Samoa: Key Biodiversity Areas.”
The study recommends that up to 33 percent of the land area of Samoa—including the largest remaining block of tropical rainforest in Polynesia—and 23 percent of the inshore lagoon area be managed for conservation. If successful, this will ensure that a full range of ecosystem services in the country are maintained in perpetuity—including freshwater conservation, soil stabilization and climate change mitigation.
If fully achieved, our proposed conservation area network will make a significant contribution to human well-being in Samoa. For example, up to 90 percent of the protein consumed locally in Samoa comes from the sea, and the proposed conservation area network will help safeguard this valuable resource.
Also important is the contribution of the proposed conservation area network to the cultural and economic vitality of the country. Not only are most Samoans still dependent on natural resources for subsistence and for income, but local culture is very tightly interlinked with, and built upon, the country’s natural heritage.
James Atherton is acting executive director of CI’s Pacific Islands program. He is based in Samoa.