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CI launches unprecedented marine conservation initiatives

Courtesy of Rachel Strader

Conservation International announced major initiatives tonight that will create marine protected areas, increase marine research, and identify priorities for conserving marine species on an unprecedented scale.

The programs involve working with partners to establish ''seascapes" in three of the world's most biodiverse marine areas, set up a Marine Management Area science program in CI's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, and launch a Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) to determine wildlife conservation priorities.

CI anticipates spending $10 million per year over several years on the initiatives, funded by grants from the Walton Family Foundation, the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation, the Otto Fund, the Cinco Hermanos Fund, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, and others. Roughly half the money will go to partner organizations helping implement the programs.

"This is, we hope, the start of an even broader effort to work together to achieve significant results in marine conservation," said Sylvia A. Earle, executive director of Conservation International's Global Marine Division. "We are excited about the momentum being created to promote the goals set at the Defying Ocean's End conference in 2003."

The Defying Ocean's End campaign started two years ago in response to the sharp decline in ocean wildlife, a disturbing increase in ocean pollution, and other marine conservation issues.

CI and its partners pioneered seascapes as a new concept: large-scale, multiple-use marine management regimes with restrictive zoning where greater protection is needed. The three seascapes to be protected are the Coral Triangle in the Sulu-Sulawesi seas, bounded by Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; the Raja Ampat islands west of New Guinea; and the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape, comprising the sovereign waters of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia and embracing the famed Galapagos and Cocos islands. These seascapes boast some of the planet's most spectacular coral reefs and most important marine wildlife populations.

Ensuring effective marine management requires a firm foundation of credible science. The Marine Management Area science program will help CI and partner scientific institutions study the relationship between marine species and their ecosystems at a time when global fish populations are plummeting from over-exploitation and much of the marine environment is polluted or degraded. CI also will test the effectiveness of management regimes, build scientific infrastructure, increase training for researchers and practitioners, and significantly expand the knowledge base relating to the conservation needs of marine ecosystems and their human communities.

CI, IUCN-Species Survival Commission, IUCN-Global Marine Program and other partners will carry out the GMSA to review the conservation status of approximately 20,000 marine species, including all marine vertebrates and selected invertebrates and plants. The GMSA will establish new procedures and methods for mapping marine biological diversity and develop a major new database on marine species available for further research. Among the first uses of the database will be the identification of marine hotspots where conservation efforts should be focused to ensure the continued survival of the greatest number of threatened marine species.

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