The breaththrough agreement at the meeting came in a week that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, released its latest Red List of Threatened Species. It includes more information than ever before on Pacific freshwater fish, land snails and reptiles.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Bernard O'Callaghan, IUCN Regional Program Coordinator for Oceania
O'CALLAGHAN: In the regional, both in the region, and globally. Over two years ago, at the last meeting, there was a series of targets identified for biodiversity throughout the world and these targets were called the Aichi targets, and the targets were to create protected areas on land to cover about 17 per cent of land, to hopefully lift protected areas in the sea from about one per cent up to 10 per cent, and also to understand more about threatened and endangered species. So these targets were set in stone two years ago, but there was no funding available. So this meeting is essentially coming together and saying yes, the world commits to work together to increase funding for biodiversity conservation, globally, but also in the Pacific.
COUTTS: How much money are we talking about?
O'CALLAGHAN: Quite substantial numbers. There's one funding mechanism called the Global Environment Fund, that is regularly updated every three to four years and you're talking about $5 or $6 million allocations towards the Global Environment Fund, so you're talking about a substantial increase in funding across the board.
COUTTS: Well a lot of countries need the funding and would welcome it, but are there prerequisites, I mean who will get it and why?
O'CALLAGHAN: The funding's across the board - essentially it's for those developing countries, those countries in special need of funding for biodiversity. There's a funding mechanism called the Global Environment Facility and most of the countries in the Pacific are able to make use of this. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, those Melanesian countries, of course, that have got the mountainous terrestrial systems that we need to understand more about, but also the other countries in the Pacific, in particular, those low lying atolls that have got very important terrestrial, but also marine and coastal biodiversity.
COUTTS: And was there much of an issue between the developed and developing nations over this issue of more funding?
O'CALLAGHAN: I think there's been recent studies done and this is on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity and we're starting to understand that we don't know that much about what the level of goods and services that the environment provides us on a daily basis - fresh air, food, water, these sorts of things. So there's a growing recognition of the importance of the value of this biodiversity. The second thing is that at the moment, of course with the global financial crisis, many countries are a little bit concerned, a little bit reluctant to commit funds over the next four years, but I think the discussions went on late into the night on Friday night and eventually a solution was reached for doubling the amount for funding for biodiversity throughout the world, in developing countries in particular.
COUTTS: Alright, and what about the species that are being threatened more than ever before. How much attention will they now get?
O'CALLAGHAN: All countries signed onto the Convention have said that they want to decrease the level of threats to threatened and endangered species and the first thing is they want to understand more, so one of the targets is, I think it's called Target 11 and they're saying reduce the threats to these species. So all countries in the Pacific will have to start to understand more about threatened and endangered species and this is also one of the big challenges. All countries, like Australia and New Zealand have then got very solid research institutes to help them. Here in the Pacific, there are not so many research institutions, so IUCN partners with SPREP and other agencies to help understand the status of these threatened and endangered species. And over the last three years, we've been working to, in particular, focus on freshwater fish, focus on land snails and also focus on reptiles and this is the first time this broad assessments been done for the Pacific.
COUTTS: Well, it was a broad assessment, a most comprehensive one, evaluating 167 freshwater fishes, 166 species of land snails and 157 reptiles over two years for inclusion on this project. How did you go about it or how was it conducted, because it is very comprehensive?
O'CALLAGHAN: IUCN publishes a Red List throughout the world, so throughout the world so far about 87,000 species have been assessed, are they threatened or endangered or are they safe? Is there no need for great concern at the moment? So there's a very established methodology, but if anybody wants to find out more about the Red List and their favourite species, they can look at the Red List up on the internet and type in the name of your species.
There's a clear methodology, the first step is finding the experts, so we have experts from around the world working on this project, people from the museum in Darwin, a variety of experts from the University of South Pacific here, and various experts from the US. So number one, experts in these species, so they can actually compile a list of what species are in the region and that's quite a big job to go back through a lot of surveys, a lot of information, find out what species is there firstly and then to look at each of these species and find out exactly where they're found, exactly what is the status of threat to those species and what actions need to be taken.
COUTTS: Well the flipside to that, of course, in preserving the ones we want to keep are those species that have been introduced and are a nuisance, invasive species, like the Giant African Snail, which causes all sorts of problems in Samoa and other places. Will some of the money be spent on how to eradicate some of these pests?
O'CALLAGHAN: Indeed, one of the interesting things, if you look at, for example, the snails of the Pacific Islands, and there's a whole variety in our gardens, there's snails, but the Pacific has got a whole different group of snails on each of the islands. We found that about 75 or 70 per cent of snail species across the Pacific Islands are threatened or endangered with severe levels of threat. So this is one of the interesting things that came out of the study. And yes, you're right Geraldine, the biggest threat to snail species are firstly introduced birds and introduced animals, such as the mongoose, and then also those other snails that may compete with the resources and so yes, invasive species are definitely one of the biggest threats. So it's hoped that the Red List can help identify what the threats are to those species and help governments or help to encourage governments to direct resources, to directly address those threats and issues of major concern.
COUTTS: And what are some of those species that are the more endangered and perhaps the focus will be paid to them initially to save them?
O'CALLAGHAN: Sure, I mean here we found as I mentioned 70 per cent of land snails were the most highly threatened and most of those were critically endangered and particularly species such as one species from Angaur Island in Palau, and also a number of species from the smaller islands here in Fiji. Some of these species we've had records of in the past, but there's no been no records in the recent history.
COUTTS: And are there other outcomes from the meeting in Hyderbad in India that of interest to the Pacific that you can tell us about?
O'CALLAGHAN: The Pacific had a very high profile at the meeting. I think that SPREP had a series of meetings with various agencies, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and also there was an announcement of a meeting next year that will be held here in Fiji, in December next year - the Pacific Roundtable for Nature Conservation Conference that comes together every five years. And it's an opportunity for all those people working on species conservation in the Pacific, on environmental conservation, also working with local communities, and empowering communities to get up and help protect and manage the environment. That meeting was announced and that meeting will be held in December, next year, here in Fiji.