||UNESCO Implementing Mauritius Strategy
| ||UNESCO at Mauritius '05|
| ||From Barbados'94 to Mauritius'05|
| ||Chapter 9: Biodiversity resources (Archive)|
Natural palm forest and plants, Vallée de Mai World Heritage site (Seychelles). (Photographer: Julian Palmyre, 1989, UNESCO).
The "coco de mer" (Lodoicea maldivicia) is the largest seed in the plant kingdom.
Biological diversity — or biodiversity — is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms.
The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend. Biodiversity is often understood in terms of the different species of plants, animals and microrganisms. But it also includes genetic differences within each species (for example between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock) as well as the variety of different ecosystems (such as grasslands, forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers, mountains, mangroves and agricultural landscapes).
Recognition of the rapidly changing face of the biosphere has triggered many initiatives for the conservation of biological diversity. In 1872, the US Congress established Yellowstone as the first national park. Today, the United Nations list of national parks and protected areas contains as many as 10,000 sites larger than 1,000 hectares. And at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, 157 countries and the European Community signed a Convention on Biological Diversity. This convention provides an internationally agreed-upon legal framework for concerted action to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity.
Small islands are renowned for their biological diversity and their endemism, and biological diversity fulfils a crucial role in the life and fabric of many small islands, from subsistence economy to contemporary tourism. Small islands have also long played an important role in scientific studies on the genetic diversity and evolution of living beings. A century-and-a half ago, observations on the Galapagos Islands were critical in shaping Charles Darwin’s revolutionary Theory on the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. And in recent decades, topics such as island biogeography and the impact of alien invasive species on island biota have figured prominently in the theory, concepts and practices of population biology, ecosystem management and conservation science.
However, biological diversity on many small islands is under increasing threat, through such impacts as the introduction of exotic species, development of tourism infrastructures, inadequate waste disposal measures, excessive harvesting of particular biotic groups (e.g corals), and so on. Generally, island species tend to be much more vulnerable to changes in their environments. Populations tend to be small, localized, highly specialized and they tend not to have developed defence mechanisms against a broad range of potential predators or competitors. Under these circumstances, they can easily be driven to extinction. In the case of birds, 90% of recorded bird extinctions since 1600 have occurred on islands. In many small island situations, the active support of local communities for conservation measures takes on special importance, given the nature of traditional, often communal, ownership of land and marine resources.
UNESCO’s interest in biological diversity dates back to the early days of the Organization, under its first Director General, biologist Julian Huxley. Among the early activities was joining with the French Government and the Swiss League for Nature in the setting-up in 1948 of IUCN, the World Conservation Union.
UNESCO’s continuing concern is rooted in two complementary international instruments for the conservation of biological diversity:
For both the World Heritage Convention and the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, an effort is being made to consider adjacent land and marine ecosystems as an ensemble, with core protected areas identified in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems (i.e. biodiversity conservation is not considered in terms of separate ‘land resources’ and ‘coastal and marine resources’).
- The Convention for the Protection of the World’s Natural and Cultural Heritage, a binding legal instrument which provides a permanent legal, financial and administrative framework for international cooperation in contributing to the protection of the world’s natural and cultural heritage. The focus is on unique sites of outstanding and universal value. The World Heritage List includes sites listed specifically for their biological processes and biodiversity values (category ii and iv natural sites) such as the Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles), East Rennell (Solomon Islands), Mornes Trois Pitons National Park (Dominica), Cocos Island (Costa Rica), two sites in Cuba, and the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve (Ecuador).
- The World Network of Biosphere Reserves, within the MAB Programme, currently comprising 440 sites in 97 countries and territories, including Cuba, Dominica, Mauritius, US Virgin Islands. At best, biosphere reserves are sites of excellence to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development on a regional scale, with associated research, monitoring, training and education and the involvement of local people as the driving force for conservation.
An example is in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, where in 2001 the World Heritage Committee approved the addition of the Galapagos Marine Reserve to the existing World Heritage site. The Galapagos Islands is among the World Heritage sites where a major partnership project is underway, involving the World Heritage Centre, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the United Nations Foundation. This partnership focuses on the control and eradication of introduced species, the most significant threat to biodiversity in those islands.
Examples of biosphere reserves in small island settings, which include both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, are Archipel de la Guadaloupe, Boloma Bijagos, Far East Marine, Isla de El Hierro, Lanzarote, Menorca, Nanji Islands, Seaflower (comprising the archipelago of San Andres-Providencia-Santa Catalina in the southwestern Caribbean), Socotra Archipelago, Tuscan Islands and the West Estonian Archipelago. Experience in a number of these reserves – in such domains as conflict prevention and resolution, and the zonation of land and water areas for different purposes – provide insights useful in conservation planning and management in other small island situations.
In addition to these two concepts and tools for promoting the in situ conservation of biological diversity, other activities include studies on marine living resources within the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) (e.g. collaborative assessments of coral reefs, benthic fauna, harmful marine algae), work related to the educational and ethical dimensions of biodiversity, and issues at the interface of biological diversity and cultural diversity. In these and other fields, collaborative activities are carried out in partnership with the Convention on Biological Diversity and a range of international conventions, agreements and organizations.
Biodiversity conservation in small islands has also been addressed in a range of activities within the Coastal Regions and Small Islands (CSI ) platform. These include contributions to the discussion forum on wise coastal practices and field experience in such locations as Portland Bight in Jamaica and the Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea, Thailand.