Plan calls for the creation of a 6-million-hectare network of terrestrial and marine reserves
- In an effort to safeguard tens of thousands animal and plant species found nowhere else in the world, the government of Madagascar announced today that it will more than triple the size of its network of areas under protection from 1.7 million hectares to 6 million hectares over the next five years.
Under the plan, the government will expand its terrestrial coverage from 1.5 million hectares to 5 million hectares and its costal and marine-area coverage from 200,000 hectares to 1 million hectares. Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana made the announcement before thousands of delegates at the 5th World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa.
Deforestation has taken its toll on the island, reducing the country's forest from 20 million hectares to 9 million hectares over the last 20 years. "We can no longer afford to sit back and watch our forests go up in flames, " President Ravalomanana said. "This is not just Madagascar's biodiversity, it is the world's biodiversity. We have the firm political will to stop this degradation."
The world's fourth largest island, Madagascar has only been inhabited for about 2,000 years. As a result, its plant and animal life developed in pristine isolation and it now teems with species found nowhere else. It is home to some 10,000 endemic plant species, 316 endemic reptile species and 109 endemic bird species. It is also home to 71 primates found only there, making it the world's top priority for primate conservation.
Conservation International (CI), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and WWF are among the international and national organizations supporting the government in this effort.
"This is one of the most important announcements in the history of biodiversity conservation," said CI President Russell Mittermeier. "Madagascar is one of the world's highest priority hotspots and a leading megadiversity country, with levels of endemism unlike anyplace on Earth. President Ravalomanana's commitment to more than triple the area under conservation was unimaginable a few years ago and needs the fullest possible international recognition and support."
The new protected areas are part of Madagascar's long-term commitment to preserve the remaining 10 to 20 percent of its primary forest and encourage local communities to engage in sustainable land use. Through sustainable conservation and plans to turn the country into a regional leader in ecotourism, the government hopes to meet its goal of reducing poverty by 50 percent over the next 12 years.
"This commitment recognizes the importance of parks as a way to both protect biodiversity and to promote sustainability and national development in the rural landscape," said Dr. John G. Robinson, senior vice president of WCS's International Conservation programs. "Madagascar is clearly leading the way towards this vision by promoting long-term partnerships with all sectors of civil society."
Under the plan, the government will launch a consultative, science-based process to choose the best sites for new protected areas based on the need to protect large wild places and the identification of threatened species that are currently outside the protected area network, called "gap species." The government also wants to create wildlife corridors that connect existing parks, preserve rare habitats and protect watersheds.
"This historic decision is a gift to the Earth that clearly signals Madagascar's commitment to saving its unique and spectacular wildlife and habitats," said Dr. Claude Martin, WWF Director General. "President Ravalomanana should be applauded and recognized as a global leader in nature conservation."
Currently, Madagascar's 1.7 million hectares of conservation areas cover about 3 percent of the country's surface. These new areas will put the government on track to safeguard 10 percent of its territory over the next five years.
The World Park's Congress is a once-a-decade event organized by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Running from Sept 8 to 17, this year's event has drawn more than 2,500 delegates from 170 countries.
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