Promoting Biodiversity Awareness in LEDC through Education

Background:Madagascar is a LED island located in the Indian Ocean, separated from mainland Africa by 250 miles. Because it was historically isolated, the species existing on the island are endemic and native only to Madagascar (Cancio). "Approximately 92 percent of Madagascar's reptiles, 68 percent of its plant life and 98 percent of its land mammals, including lemurs, exist naturally nowhere else on Earth" ("Madagascar: Safeguarding one of Earth's most captivating islands," 2011). Among these species, there are many endangered animals such as Aye-aye, Coquerel's Sifaka, Fork-crowned Lemur, Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat, Pygmy Mouse Lemur ("Endangered mammals of Africa," 2011) and many others. These species are currently threatened by Tavy or slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, overexploitation of biodiversity, alien species and other factors ("Threats to Madagascar's biodiversity and ecosystems," 2011).

According to a Wild Madagascar article on threats to the biological diversity of Madagascar, "Tavy is the lifeblood of Malagasy culture and the Malagasy economy". Tavy agricultural implies cutting down tropical forests to plant rice. Two or three acres of soil are used twice or thrice for 2 years in four year intervals and then abandoned because of the land's exhaustion, leaving a destroyed habitat. Because about 50 percent of population lives below poverty line ("Threats to Madagascar's biodiversity and ecosystems," 2011), the inhabitants of the island exhibit concern for the current need of their families and do not plan for future problems facing Madagascar's biodiversity and the effects it will have on the agriculture. The forests that are cut down for the sake of this Tavy agriculture are home to the aforementioned species, and as they lose their habitat, their numbers decrease.

In addition to the species lost due to decrease in habitat, "Madagascar's native species have been aggressively hunted and collected by people desperately seeking to provide for their families" (Threats to Madagascar's biodiversity and ecosystems, 2011). The natives hunt for lemurs, reptiles with no regard to the long-term stability of the population and the fishing around the island is mostly unregulated. Even though lemurs are facing extinction, the natives are forced to hunt them to earn a living for their families. In a country where 50 percent of the population lives in poverty, using video games and school curriculums to educate people that their source of income is harming biodiversity would yield little to no result.

Proposition: We propose that UN hires conservational biologists to educate the people of LEDCs that rely on biodiversity for a living about how they can better their practices without sacrificing their current economic stability. Because children start participating in adult tasks at young age, this method of education does not only apply for the children, but the general LEDC population.

For example, in Madagascar, the conservational biologist would suggest alternative agricultural techniques that would allow land to be used more efficiently. They would educate on benefits of using different techniques and help establish those techniques in villages for permanent use. The approach implies giving practical advice to the villages and communities instead of criticizing the impact that their lifestyle has on the surrounding biodiversity. While this approach can be centered around educating the adults making decisions about agricultural methods or any other technique damaging biodiversity, attentions has to also be focused on children so that safe habits can be implemented permanently and survive passing of generations. Children should be involved in these projects and be on the forefront of practicing new methods. Some conservational biologists around the world already use this approach to benefit biodiversity and the villages around the world.

For example, Dr. Amanda Vincent working on "Project Seahorse" visited villages in Philippines to provide "local fishers with an alternative to catching the wild seahorses" (Vincent, 1997). Dr. Vincent knew that fishers in Philippines relied on seahorses for a living and could not afford to conserve the species, so she and the villagers built "grow out cages" for seahorses and organized a loan-system in Philippines. If fishers caught young seahorses, they would be paid a loan for seahorses. The juvenile seahorses would be placed into the corrals in the sea in grow-out cages and kept there for three to five months during which they would have a chance to grow and reproduce. At the end of that time, the monetary value of the caught seahorses would double because they had the chance to grow lager and the coral reefs would become re-populated with seahorses which would once again be available to fishers. (Vincent, 1997) Project Seahorse exemplifies how villages can be approached as communities and be educated in a non-tradition, non-classroom setting.

Cost: We suggest that this project be considered for BioD Forum as "ICB Sponsored Research Project" and that companies, universities and other forum registered members are encouraged to contribute. The money invested in this effort can take a form of donations to organizations that already established in this initiative such as "Project Seahorse" or spent on creating new projects. The absolute cost of each project depends on the approach taken and is location specific, direct cost estimate is tenuous. We suggest that villages selected for this project will be located near hotspot areas and that hotspot research is done before this project is set in motion.