From the Forest to the Ocean: How Protected Areas Can Positively Impact Species Conservation
At this Earthwatch lecture, scientists address the challenge of conserving endangered species through the enforcement of protected areas in Belize and Madagascar.
Addressing the challenge of conserving endangered species through the enforcement of protected areas, Dr. Luke Dollar and Dr. John Cigliano shared the impacts of their work in Madagascar and Belize, respectively.
Describing Madagascar as an “evolutionary petri dish,” Dr. Dollar spoke of the rapid decline of many of the unique species that are endemic to the country. Protected areas, he argued, are essential to sustain not only threatened habitats but also human populations that depend on the natural resources that Madagascar’s forests provide.
The focus of Dr. Dollar’s research is the little-known fosa, Madagascar’s only native mammalian apex predator, which is endemic to the island. Dr. Dollar drew on over a decade of data collected by over 300 Earthwatch volunteers. He observed, “It is not necessarily the protected areas in themselves that make a difference to the conservation of endangered species, but rather the increased level of human presence in those protected areas that discourage activities such as illegal logging. The simple presence of the many teams of Earthwatch volunteers that work with us in the National Park serves as a deterrent.”
An interview with Earthwatch scientist Dr. Luke Dollar
Dr. Cigliano’s research, by contrast, focuses on the marine environment. The urgency of his work was illustrated with a stark warning that close to 80% of the world’s fisheries that have been assessed are at or close to their maximum sustainable limits or past those limits, with some already collapsed or economically extinct.
Working alongside Earthwatch volunteers, Dr. Cigliano has spent five years monitoring populations of the queen conch in Belize’s Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. The queen conch is a species of marine mollusk that is of great importance within the marine ecosystem and is also economically and culturally important to the Belizean people.
“My project was set up in response to the needs and inputs of the local community,” explains Dr. Cigliano. “We are fortunate to be able to draw on several years of data about the status of populations before the marine protected area was enforced. We are now beginning to contrast those findings with similar recordings post-enforcement. We need a few more years’ data to be able to draw solid conclusions, but preliminary analysis suggests that the reserve is indeed making a positive difference to the density, size, and average age of conch within the protected zones of the reserve, and possibly the unprotected zones as well.”
Over the course of the evening, both speakers addressed many of the greatest environmental challenges we face today. The audience left with a sense of optimism on hearing about the significant positive impacts that these two projects are having, not only on wildlife and habitats but also in providing economic and educational opportunities to local populations to sustain conservation efforts in the future.
Dr. John Cigliano speaks about monitoring queen conch in Belize