Action, action, action to save biodiversity in the Caucasus

A stark call for the protection of the natural wealth of the Caucasus emerged from the Countdown 2010 Caucasus Conference, held in Gudauri, Georgia from May 15- 17. Nature conservation organisations launched a countdown to reach the 2010 biodiversity target. In this particularly biodiverse European region, at least 700 species are threatened with extinction.

Gudauri, Georgia, 17 May 2006. More than sixty experts from four Caucasian countries and international NGOs and other organisations adopted the “Message from Gudauri”, an appeal for immediate action to manage natural resource use, improve the region’s network of protected areas and monitor biodiversity. The recommendations address government authorities as well as relevant stakeholders and aim to raise the profile of biodiversity conservation in the region.

“Our natural resources and biodiversity are the foundation for a functioning economy and our quality of life. It is more cost-effective for governments in this region to conserve their natural wealth now than to restore a degraded environment later, especially if present unsustainable trends continue”, explained Tamás Marghescu, IUCN Regional Director for Europe.

Organisations ranging from the Georgian Centre for the Conservation of Wildlife and WWF Caucasus to the Regional Environment Centre launched the Countdown 2010 initiative in the Caucasus as a platform to mobilise stakeholder action and support governments in meeting the 2010 biodiversity target. As a symbolic action, they cleaned the slopes of Gudauri from litter left by skiing tourists.

Threats to biodiversity in the Caucasus

The outlook for the region’s biodiversity is bleak, three reports presented at the conference showed. The list of critically endangered species includes the European snow leopard, the Caucasian black grouse and the imperial eagle, and pressures from overgrazing, illegal logging and hunting remain high. Pressures from infrastructure building, pollution and habitat fragmentation are likely to increase with the economic development of the region. The necessary environmental safeguards to ameliorate this trend are still weak.

The Caucasus encompasses Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and parts of Iran, Russia and Turkey. Apart from the Mediterranean Basin, it is the only European biodiversity hotspot – a region of extraordinary rich nature facing enormous threats. Its governments have promised to halt the loss of its biodiversity by 2010. This commitment originates from the Environment for Europe Conference in Kiev 2003 and is commonly called the 2010 biodiversity target.

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