SCB 2009 Conference: Wrap up

The Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia, Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China. © Pete Oxford
The 23rd annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, the premier professional conservation science association, was widely agreed to be a remarkable success.

The first-ever SCB meeting held in Asia survived both the global recession and fears about swine flu threatened – although rumors of quarantine for suspicion of H1N1 were rampant, the absence of a number of lead authors and presenters was likely due to the pressures of recession on non-profits and academic institutions rather than health detainments.

Conservation International (CI)’s delegation included roughly twenty staff who presented work on a range of topics, examining conservation in the context of CI’s new mission. The range of topics at this year’s conference indicated a significant growth of interest in the conservation community in practical application of conservation science to questions of development and human well-being.

CI’s team showcased significant and innovative work toward integrating conservation tools into the private sector and identified opportunities to broaden collaboration between the conservation community and the private sector.

A broadly discussed presentation given during a freshwater conservation session showed in stark terms the perilous state of freshwater diversity in China’s Yangtze River.

The human-sized Yangtze River dolphin, or baiji, (Lipotes vexillifer); the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) and Reeves’ Shad (Macrura reevesii) have been driven to or past the brink of extinction in the last few decades because of human activities on the river. This is a jarring indication of what may befall a number of species in the Yangtze whose populations are in sharp decline, and, indeed, are foreboding examples for freshwater diversity around the globe.

The Yangtze also supports more than 400 million people – roughly 6 percent of the world’s population – and the decline of these species is likely to have serious implications for human well-being as declining fish stocks decimate the commercial fishing industry, restrict the availability of food for locals, and as the river’s ecosystems change and their ability to provide important services to these human populations is limited. Reeves’ Shad alone once served as the Yangtze’s largest commercial fishery and has now reached near-extinction.

A session focusing on progress toward the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2010 targets concluded that the global community is failing to meet targets for indicators that evaluate the state of global biodiversity. However, evidence is mounting to show that conservation efforts are successful in reducing pressure where they are being implemented and that most conservation funding is being directed to the many of the world’s most important places. These findings indicate that the conservation community does have the tools to progress toward these bold global targets, but that efforts need to be scaled-up dramatically and that some very important but less well-known places are missing out on critical funding.

Ready to take on the challenge to expand on these efforts is the group convened by the Conservation Leadership Programme, a program run by a partnership among CI, BirdLife International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Fauna and Flora International, and funded by BP. The program brought together 75 budding conservationists and alumni for a two-week training session leading up to the conference where 40 awardees gave presentations on their work.

With such global challenges as those laid out throughout the conference, this new batch of conservationists will be critical reinforcements as we strive to empower societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity.

Elizabeth Baer is the Manager of Conservation Tools for Business at Conservation International

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) is an international professional organization dedicated to advancing the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity.

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