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Protected Area Systems

There are at least 4 437 terrestrial and marine protected sites in Latin America and the Caribbean, covering an area of more than 350 million hectares (Chape and others 2005). However, hotspot zones and different ecoregions are not adequately or equally covered in this system of protected areas.

A new study of global hotspots rich in bird biodiversity found that six of the nine hotspots with the highest number of bird species are in the Latin America and Caribbean region (Orme and others 2005). The Andes is the richest, with 2 139 species, and the Amazon basin is second with 961 species. Others are the Guyana Highlands (877 species), the Atlantic

forest in Brazil (733 species), the Mato Grosso plains (687 species) and the mountain areas of Panama and Costa Rica (621 species). Several endemic and threatened species are also found in many of these areas. However, the study shows that there is
no strong correlation between hotspots based on species richness, on level of endemism, or on the number of threatened species. It concludes that a mixture of measures is needed to select priority areas, but if only one is chosen, hotspots with endemic species provide the best single focus for conservation, capturing a high proportion of species richness and threatened species (Orme and others 2005). In Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, less than ten per cent of the total area is protected, covering 40 of the 75 existing terrestrial eco-regions. At least 21 of these eco-regions are shared by two or more countries and therefore require coordinated biodiversity conservation strategies.

The Andean Community of Nations has put forward a strategy for coordination in the Andean region (Soutullo and Gudynas 2005). Some progress was made in protecting biodiversity in 2005. In Ecuador, the Sangay National Park was withdrawn from UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in Danger (UNESCO 2005). Peru conferred protected status to 2.7 million hectares in the Amazonian region of Alto Purus, which is also an indigenous reserve. This park is home to 86 species of mammals and 510 species of birds, and is an important link in creating a network of reserves in the Peruvian, Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon areas (WWF 2005).

Progress was also made in protecting the marine environment, through the creation of new marine and coastal protected areas. In Chile, two new marine sanctuaries were created stretching a nautical mile (1 852 m) around the Choros and Damas Islands and Chañaral Island. These new areas protect species such as the bottle-nosed dolphin, the Humboldt penguin, the southern sea otter and the marine otter. The Pygmy Beaked whale (Mesoplodon peruvianus), a species discovered in 1991, is also found in this area (Leviathan 2005). A corridor of marine protected areas, covering important transit areas for cetaceans, was established in Panama in 2005 (UNESCO 2005). Meanwhile, UNESCO recognized as a World Heritage Site a group of nine protected areas in the Gulf of California, which includes 244 islands, islets and coastal areas in Mexico (IUCN 2005).

New initiatives to protect humpback whales, found in the Pacific Ocean coasts close to Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, include coordinated efforts by Panama and Colombia to protect breeding sites in the Las Perlas Archipelago. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) designated the waters that surround the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador as a “particularly sensitive sea area”. This measure will allow improved international assistance in the event of an environmental accident (IMO 2005).

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