Integrate science with traditional knowledge to describe ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs)

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


Traditional knowledge has been engaging the attention of delegates at COP-11, and it is relevant to the previous blog on ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs).

During previous discussions at COP-9 in 2008 and COP-10 in 2010, CBD had recognised the need to integrate traditional, scientific, technical and technological knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs).

Science and traditional knowledge should together determine ecologically and biologically significant areas. Credit: Michael Foley, World Bank

CBD Alliance, a network of non-government organisations attending COP-11 in Hyderabad, says that in the five regional workshops held so far to identify and describe EBSAs did not attempt to integrate the scientific criteria with traditional knowledge of IPLCs.CBD Alliance  points out that during discussions held before 2008, countries had already identified for ecologically and biologically significant marine areas within open oceans and deep-sea habitats, which needed protection, based on scientific criteria.

In recent years, the focus has shifted also to EBSAs in marine and coastal areas within national jurisdiction, but the criteria being used for these are the same as for oceans.  In the case of marine and coastal areas within national territorial waters, integrating traditional knowledge becomes all the more important. An estimated 3.5 billion people – over a half of the world’s people – live within 100 miles of the coast;  and 90 per cent of people who depend on fishing live in developing countries.

CBD also cites the conclusions of a study by the subsidiary body on scientific, technical and technological advice (SBSTTA);  an intergovernmental scientific advisory body for COP, in 2001 which says social conditions often determine long-term success of conservation initiatives and hence socio-cultural criteria for EBSAs need to be considered along with scientific criteria, especially in areas with human populations.

The SBSTTA study also concluded that it is equally important to management of identified EBSAs will depend on social, economic and cultural factor.

Training workshops should, therefore, bear social, economic and cultural factors too in future EBSA workshops, says CBD Alliance.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) suggests that reports of the regional training workshops be included in a repository by the CBD, which could be used as a scientific basis for setting up “a globally comprehensive, adequate and representative” system of EBSAs.

The Hyderabad meeting should also ensure sufficient resources are committed for more regional workshops to identify EBSAs, it says.

Whether natural science and traditional knowledge will be treated on on equal footing remains to be seen.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

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