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Pledges Safeguard Heart of Borneo, Far-Flung Island Ecosystems

CURITIBA, Brazil, March 30, 2006 (ENS) - A conservation initiative that will protect the biodiverse Heart of Borneo was launched Tuesday at a UN global biodiversity conference, with the three governments that share the world's third largest island – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia – pledging their support. Another initiative to conserve biodiversity of the world's islands, the Global Island Partnership, was announced Wednesday.

“The Heart of Borneo harbors up to six percent of the world’s total biodiversity and is the source of 14 of the island’s 20 major rivers,” said Arman Mallolongan, director general of the Forest Protection and Nature Conservation Division of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry.

“Conserving the Heart of Borneo will not only save hundreds or even thousands of species, but also provide water security, food security and cultural survival for the people of Borneo,” Mallolongan said. Some 361 new species were discovered in Borneo between 1994 and 2004.


Rainforest on the northeast tip of Borneo, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, habitat of the endemic Bornean pygmy elephant. (Photo by A. Christy Williams courtesy Canon/WWF)
“This is an historic event, as the Heart of Borneo initiative will pave the way towards expanding conservation of biodiversity, which fully supports the goal of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity,” said Dato Suboh, Secretary General of the Malaysian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Suboh said, “This initiative also represents a very significant milestone for transboundary cooperation and will enhance existing collaboration between our respective countries to protect vital natural resources and reduce poverty.”

Brunei’s government representative, Mahmud Yussof, said he hoped a tri-country declaration for the Heart of Borneo could be signed at the 14th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, next May in New York.

The conservation initiatives were announced at the ministerial segment of the biannual Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, an international treaty with 187 states Parties.

The announcement by the three governments "shows vision and leadership,” said James Leape, WWF International’s director general. “Three countries sharing one conservation vision gives hope to one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the world.”

WWF says the announcement puts an end to plans to create the world’s largest palm oil plantation along Indonesia’s mountainous border with Malaysia. The scheme – supported with Chinese investments – was expected to cover an area of 1.8 million hectares and would have had long-lasting, damaging consequences on the Heart of Borneo.

WWF has urged that new oil palm plantations should be established on degraded, non-forested land.

Michelle Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, based in the UK, said the conservation agreement represents "a huge step" forward for organutans.


Orangutan baby in Borneo (Photo courtesy SafePalmOil.org)
Ten thousand years ago, hundreds of thousands of orangutans were found throughout Southeast Asia ranging all the way into southern China. Today, the few remaining orangutans cling to survival in the tropical rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

Desilets said, "With the launch of the Heart of Borneo initiative, there is some hope for the future of the orangutan and its rainforest habitat. Theoretically, it spells the end to plans for the intended conversion of nearly two million hectares of rainforest in Kalimantan along the border with Malaysia."

Today, only half of Borneo's forest cover remains, down from 75 percent in the mid-1980s. WWF estimates that all lowland rainforests in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, would disappear by 2010, if the current deforestation rate of 1.3 million hectares per year continues. Forest fires, the conversion of forests to plantations, and logging are also driving the destruction of Borneo's forests.

Still, WWF says, healthy forests cover much of highlands and adjacent foothills along the borders of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, connecting in places with rich, lowland forests to form a corridor of life – the Heart of Borneo.

Indonesia, a nation of more than 13,000 islands, is also involved in the Global Island Partnership. Indonesian President H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono joined the President of Palau, the vice president of the Federated States of Micronesia, and officials of Grenada and Kiribati to launch the conservation effort Wednesday.

The partnership is aimed at enhancing marine and terrestrial protected areas as a major contribution of achieving the Heads of State commitment to reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

The 100,000 islands of the world represent more than 600 million people, one quarter of the nations of the world, 16 percent of the planet’s known plant species and more than half of the world’s tropical marine biodiversity.


President of Palau Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. at the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
“To address the islands unique challenges we need a unique approach and unique response. The Micronesia Challenge is our shared response,” said Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., the President of Palau.

The Micronesia Challenge commits to the conservation of at least 30 percent of the marine areas and 20 percent of the forests of the countries across Micronesia. The protected areas represent more than 20 percent of the Pacific island region and will protect 10 percent of the global reef area and 462 coral species representing 58 percent of all known corals.

Thirty percent of the world’s coral reefs are severely damaged and 60 percent may be lost by 2030. Half of the species of the world lost have been island species, according to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

A similar commitment was made by Grenada and Indonesia.

The tiny island nation of Kiribati announced the creation of the world's third-largest marine protected area. The protected area at the Phoenix Islands, located about halfway between Fiji and Hawaii, places some 184,700 square kilometers out of bounds for commercial fishing, protecting precious coral reefs and undersea mountains.

Kiribati Environment Minister Martin Puta Toginfa said the Phoenix Islands Protection Area would be established as a national park.


Bleached stony coral at 80 feet depth. Phoenix Islands, Kiribati. Temperature changes due to climate warming are linked to coral bleaching events. (Photo by Cat Holloway courtesy Canon/WWF)
The European Union called for a global moratorium on deep-sea trawling, calling the fishing practice of dragging heavy gear along the ocean floor harmful to the biodiversity of oceans.

Bottom trawling is blamed for depleting the world's deep-sea fish populations, threatening many species with extinction and radically altering undersea habitats.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas called for "an interim prohibition of destructive fishing practices in international waters, including bottom trawling."

Seeking to set a conservation example, at the opening of the ministerial segment of the meeting on Sunday, Brazilian President Inacio da Lula Silva pledged to expand protected areas in the Amazon rainforest by five percent to 51 million hectares. Lula also said Brazil had reduced deforestation in the three worst-hit states by 31 percent last year.

Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), said, “The establishment of land based protected areas has been one of the great environmental success stories for the conservation of nature. Since the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in the United States of America over 100 years ago, the number of such areas has increased to more than 11 percent of the Earth’s surface.”

“However, the development of marine protected areas has lagged far behind," Djoghlaf said. "Indeed, less than one percent of the world’s oceans and seas benefit from marine protected area states."

“The tragedy of the tsunami of December 2004 in the Indian Ocean underlined that ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves are not only vital nurseries for fish and other marine life forms, they are also vital natural sea defenses, able to protect coastal communities, their properties and their rich coastal biodiversity,” Djoghlaf said.

Djoghlaf Wednesday announced signing of an agreement between the Secretariat and the Greenbelt Movement of Kenya for to offset the Secretariat’s carbon dioxide emissions with the planting of trees that can absorb the greenhouse gas.

Greenbelt founder, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya, Wednesday sent a video message to the conference emphasizing the need to raise public awareness and reduce poverty to enhance biodiversity conservation.

Djoghlaf called on Heads of State to seize the opportunity of the ninth Conference of Parties to be held in 2008 in Germany to follow suit and make concrete commitments to achieve a halt to the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

The Curitiba Conference of CBD Parties concludes on Friday.

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