Madagascar to triple protected area coverage
Forest slopes cleared as expanding population look for new farm land, Madagascar.
In a major boost for conservation, Madagascar’s President Marc Ravalomanana has committed to triple the island’s protected area coverage, adding a further 5 million ha, and placing more than two-thirds of the country’s remaining forest under formal protection. WWF recognized this major new protected area commitment as a Gift to the Earth – a globally significant conservation action, which demonstrates environmental leadership and is an inspiration and example to others.
Due to long isolation from major landmasses, and the influence of geography and climate, the biodiversity of Madagascar is extremely rich and diverse across relatively small areas. The island-continent has evolved remarkably diverse ecosystems including lush tropical rain forests, mountain peaks — each supporting a stunning array of unique species— tropical dry forests, near-desert environments, mangrove forests, and coral reefs. This world apart has one of the highest levels of diversity with respect to many plant and animal groups with, for example, more than 10,000 species of flowering plants and one of the highest numbers of primates to be found in any single country.
Through the additional 5 million hectares of protected areas, more than two-thirds of remaining natural forest areas will be protected, as well as marine and freshwater ecosystems. This protected area network will provide a realistic possibility of maintaining significant levels of existing biodiversity, compared to the current system. It will also protect vital ecological services for people in Madagascar, notably water and marine fisheries stocks.
Creation and development of the protected areas will be done in close cooperation with local communities, for whom the new protected areas will provide real benefit, through development of ecotourism and employment opportunities, protection of culturally important areas such as sacred sites, and the securing of ecosystem services such as water supply, food, and other essential materials. Mobilisation of funding for this commitment and for management is now a priority.
Madagascar has already lost 80 percent of its natural areas, and continues to lose an estimated 200,000 ha annually to deforestation. With increasing human populations totally dependent on what the forests, freshwater, and marine systems can provide, there is an urgent need to protect what remains to maintain both the biodiversity value and productivity. Economic opportunities are vitally important for Madagascar, a country rated fifth poorest in the world, where four of five people survive on less than US$1 a day, and are highly dependent on what natural systems can provide.
Tourism provides more jobs than any other sector in Madagascar — mostly oriented to the natural environment — and existing protected areas are not only the backbone of Madagascar’s growing tourism economy, they are also focal points for sustainable rural development. Expansion of the protected area system is expected to provide further benefit through jobs and income opportunities, strengthening of the eco-tourism network, and much greater protection for biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services.
The new initiative to increase protected area coverage is driven both by government and local communities in cooperation with international and local conservation organisations. It is a powerful response to the continued loss of biodiversity in a country renowned for its unique and fascinating natural wealth. Local communities and government are cooperating, together with the NGOs WWF, Conservation International, WCS and local organisations such as Fanamby and MICET, to identify the most suitable sites. A preliminary list of 20 sites has already been identified.
WWF will work with the government and other partners to help mobilise the resources — both technical and financial — required to realise the ambitions of this initiative: creation of a well-managed and ecologically representative protected area network. Particularly important is mobilization of funding resources, to be helped through creation of the Madagascar Foundation for Protected Areas and Biodiversity, which aims to raise $50 million in the next five years.
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