8 environmental stewards win $900,000 in biodiversity awards

08/02/04

They join 13 others in sharing $3.2 million

NEW YORK CITY, August 3--Eight scientists and environmental advocates from around the world today were named winners of US$900,000 in Biodiversity Leadership Awards. The winners find, catalog, and defend diversity in species-rich and biologically endangered areas of the United States, Argentina, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, the Philippines, New Caledonia, and Madagascar.

The new winners join thirteen others from previous years in sharing US$3.2 million in prestigious no-strings-attached awards for environmental stewardship. The awards are made by The Bay Foundation and the Josephine Bay Paul and C. Michael Paul Foundation of New York City, with the advice of a panel of advisers.

This year, for the first time, two of the winners were designated Biodiversity Emerging Leaders for their "early achievements and creative excellence in solving problems relevant to biodiversity. . ." They will receive awards of US$90,000 each, while three of the Leadership Award winners receive US$180,000 awards, to be spread over three years. Three others were tied for a Leadership Award and receive US$60,000 each.

The awards recognize previous and potential excellence. Winners may use their awards in any way they like, though all winners so far have plowed their funds back into biodiversity projects. There is no application process for the awards; nominations and selections are made by the advisers.

The winners announced today are:

Maria Marta Chavarria, nominated for a Leadership Award for her work in identifying and conserving biodiversity in Costa Rica's Area Conservacion Guanacaste (ACG). The ACG is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world, and is widely known and highly valued among the scientific community. Chavarria, a native of Costa Rica, wears many hats (as do conservationists in most developing countries): She is an expert in both insect and plant taxonomy and conservation biologist, as well as fund-raiser, organizer, educator, and administrator. For the past eight years she has been ACG's assistant director for biodiversity.

Graham (Guillermo) Harris, an Argentinean, nominated for a Leadership Award for his work in defending terrestrial wildlife in southernmost South America. Harris is president of Fundacion Patagonia Natural, the largest non-profit wildlife conservation organization in southern Argentina, as well as Southern Cone Regional Coordinator for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. Harris has worked to relocate tanker lanes away from the northeastern coast of Argentina, where oil from their ballast tanks was endangering penguins. He also works for the protection of some animals unfamiliar to the rest of the world, including the guanaco (a New World relative of the camel) that is hunted for dogfood, and the ostrichlike rhea. Harris is also a wildlife artist and writer.

Mengistu Wondafrash, an ornithologist and conservation biologist from Ethiopia, is the third candidate for a Leadership Award. He has worked under unfavorable economic and other conditions to protect endangered bird species, especially in Ethiopia. Among them are the globally precarious White-winged Flufftail. Wondafrash has worked to create and protect the wetland breeding habitats of the flufftail, which is believed to number only 750 globally. He has written: "It is my inherent belief that the only and highest service I can ever render to my country is to be involved in activities related to conservation of biodiversity and the environment and promotion of wise use of natural resources. Conservation is my lifestyle." Wondafrash currently is studying environment and development at Reading University, U.K.

A tie vote

After extensive discussion, the nominators reached a tie vote for a fourth Leadership Award. They asked that the award be divided among:

Christopher Birkinshaw, a plant ecologist employed by the Missouri Botanical Garden in Madagascar, one of the most biodiversity rich, yet biologically endangered, places on Earth. The U.K. citizen has shown great talent in blending the hopes and desires of the Malagasy people with conservation programs. One of his colleagues has written that Birkinshaw's success is largely due to his "being particularly attentive to the needs and sensitivities of the Malagasy. . . and his ability to offer advice rather than telling people what to do."

Steven M. Goodman, a U.S. citizen employed by the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, lives also in Madagascar, where he has been cited as doing more to study the fauna than any other living person. Goodman has often risked his personal safety to complete natural history collections, but he also has conducted conservation biology and field inventory courses for Malagasy students. He published, with Jonathan Benstead, the massive volume, The Natural History of Madagascar.

Curt Meine, a U.S. citizen and resident of Wisconsin, works with the International Crane Foundation and the World Conservation Union's Crane Specialist Group. Recently he has led an effort to examine the needs of Wisconsin's fresh water ecosystems. And, in his home community of Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin, Meine has been a leader in developing a community-driven consensus plan for conserving the now-vacant property of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant, a 7,350-acre World War II munitions factory. Meine has written: "conservation requires solid science, effective policy, and sound technique; but ultimately conservation is a human activity that is undertaken by people whose commitments are shaped by their culture."

Emerging Leaders Awards

The nominators chose two other scientists who, in the Foundations' words, "have shown early achievements and creative excellence in solving problems relevant to conserving biodiversity." They are:

Nina Ingle, a citizen of the U.K. who works in the Philippines. There she seeks to strengthen local understanding of and commitment to Philippine biodiversity. Ingle has observed that Filipinos may be more familiar with diversity in the Amazon or Africa (from watching nature programs on television) than that in their own country. She has sought to cure that deficiency in a variety of ways. She plans to use the great bulk of her award to reward others with "Filipino Conservationist Awards," that would that would assist persons "who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to conservation at the local level."

Hubert Geraux, a French citizen who works in New Caledonia, where he coordinates projects for the World Wildlife Fund. The French overseas territory is recognized as one of Earth's "biodiversity hotspots," but uncertainties remain about how to best protect it. Those uncertainties are partly based on the dual cultures of New Caledonia--native Melanesians and Europeans. Geraux has begun to forge relationships between the communities involved. He has written: "I am personally convinced that the future success of conservation initiatives must be built on supporting these communities so that they can reformulate the cultural links with the environment with respect to the current and future aspirations and way of life."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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