Conch project nets conservation prize

A Colombian project aimed at preserving sea life while providing employment has taken top prize in a contest marking the International Year of Biodiversity.

Coralina’s Seaflower Marine Protected Area was judged to have protected a “vast territory” of ocean, while helping fishermen make a better living.

Projects in Ghana, Japan, the US and several European countries were also lauded in the Countdown 2010 awards.

Prizes will be given at the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting here.

They mark the end of the Countdown 2010 project run by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the title being a reference to the declared but unmet international target of reducing the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

Despite the global failure on that target, the IUCN’s deputy director-general Bill Jackson said the successes of Coralina and the other recipients showed what could be and was being done locally.

“Countdown 2010 has brought together more than 1,000 very diverse organisations to help conserve biodiversity,” he said.

“Partners have shown, on the ground, how we can really stop biodiversity loss. These are the type of actions that need to be scaled up for us to make real progress globally by 2020.”

Umbrella opening

Coralina, a Colombian government agency, set up the Seaflower Reserve in 2005.

The 200,000-hectare reserve centres on San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina – a Colombian-owned archipelago located about 200km east of the Central American coast.

The seas and coastal fringes support coral, mangroves, turtles, fish, sea birds and crabs.

The conservation plan is designed to support all of these – but notably to restore stocks of queen conch, which in decades gone by was plundered from the archipelago’s waters for food and for its shells.

Coralina’s approach has been to work with fishing communities, ensuring that some fishing can continue while closing other areas important for nature.

“We have no-take and no-entry zones – also special use and artisanal fishing zones, and general use zones,” related Elizabeth Taylor Jay, Coralina’s general director.

“We’re trying to work on alternative livelihoods seeking some options compatible with the lifestyle of the archipelago.

“The intention is to open an umbrella of possibilities of livelihoods, including low-impact aquaculture, and some alternatives on land such as iguana farming which is done by the fishers in some places, and also creating interpretation trails (for tourism).”

The conch, meanwhile, are raised inside pens for protection, and released into the wider environment when they reach maturity.

Other Countdown 2010 projects judged by an IUCN panel to be especially meritorious include:

Hero Productions of Ghana, cited for an awareness campaign that included mounting a national youth conference on biodiversity and launching a tree-planting initiative that has won government support

Belgium’s Limburg Province, which encouraged every municipality to adopt a plant or animal, then established action plans to conserve them

Natural England, for supporting local voluntary projects working on animals such as bees, birds, crayfish and juniper

The awards are made here as government delegates discuss whether to endorse a comprehensive set of targets for biodiversity protection running to 2020 and beyond, along with a draft agreement on equitable exploitation of the planet’s natural genetic resources.