International Conference on Biodiversity With over 1600 participants per day, the International Conference on Biodiversity held at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, on France's initiative between the 24 to the 28 th of January 2005, was the place to be for any scientist and actor interested: in knowing where scientific research on Biodiversity has reached world wide and; in participating in the scientific discussion on the urgent needs of biodiversity research, knowledge and conservation of the worldís natural resources.

This scientific conference on Biodiversity: Science and Governance was found to be necessary since biodiversity is a natural heritage and a vital resource for all humankind, but it is being destroyed irreversibly by human activities.  Toward this situation a major effort is needed to discover, understand, conserve and carefully use biodiversity.

Dr. Adriana Vella, Ph.D., Conservation biologist at the University of Malta and co-ordinator of the Malta National Biodiversity Platform was invited to participate in this conference and workshops.   Through Dr. A. Vellaís paper on ì using molecular genetics to assess populations and habitat viabilityî the Maltese Islands were also represented at this international conference.   Dr. Vella looks forward to seeing local conservation biology research given the financial backing it deserves especially because of the local biodiversity conservation needs.  Advancing our national scientific capabilities demands national investment in our youths and our scientistsí research projects.  Our depleting biodiversity also demands our urgent consideration toward improving our capabilities to deal with biodiversity conservation effectively.

The word "biodiversity" was coined during the 1980s and taken up at the Earth Summit in 1992. It refers to living species as a whole, to their genetic variability and to the diverse ecosystems they form. It focuses, in other words, on the links that bond species to each other and to their physical environment. These links define a natural grouping with particular characteristics.

Since the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992 and its ratification by more than 170 countries, the international community is committed to a significant reduction of biodiversity erosion. Nonetheless, the goals remain unclear. The erosion of biodiversity continues.

There are several explanations for this situation. First, our knowledge remains very limited. Only an estimated 1.3 to 1.5 million living species have been classified, out of a total that is somewhere between 10 to 30 million. The rate, causes and consequences of biodiversity loss are still debatable. Most importantly, we underestimate the risks associated with the loss of ecosystems' potential and their capacity to adapt. Research must contribute to highlighting ecosystem services.

Finally, alternative approaches that can reconcile economic, social and ecological interests are currently insufficient, therefore among the challenges and issues of the Biodiversity conference held in Paris there were the considerations of questions such as: How can we develop a global pool of scientific expertise? What research do actors need? What can we expect from science? To what extent do we depend on biodiversity? How can the ecological and evolutionary potential of ecosystems be assessed and maintained?

Four plenary meetings and fifteen workshops focusing on various issued enabled participants to share their views through presentations, panels, posters and debates.

The plenary sessions allowed for most participant to join in presentations by eminent persons such as:  Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), who stressed the impact of biodiversity loss on humankind, and said preserving healthy ecosystems is crucial for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and implementing sustainable strategies for land use, industry and tourism. He stressed the interlinkages between climate change, desertification and biodiversity loss, and called for investments in capacity building and in coherent, coordinated and policy-relevant science.

Another interesting contribution came from Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), who noted that despite increased recognition of biodiversityís value, knowledge about biodiversity loss is limited. He highlighted the challenge faced by the international community to achieve the 2010 target to significantly reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss, and called for stronger international cooperation and effective communication on biodiversity loss and its effects.

While Mohammed Valli Moosa, President of the World Conservation Union ? IUCN, stressed direct links between biodiversity loss and human activities, warning that more than 15,000 species are threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List. He suggested a framework to put biodiversity at the center stage of human activities on the basis of four key elements: people around the world; science; regulations and laws at all levels; and the market force.

Among the workshops available there was one also on fisheries management, which Dr. Adriana Vella also participated in. This workshop was chaired by Serge Garcia, FAO and focused on challenges for fisheries management. Presentations and discussions were held on various themes including sustainable marine fisheries, biodiversity and ecosystems; past and present concerns in marine biodiversity; recent marine extinctions; from single-species to ecosystem-based management; climate change and fisheries management; fisheries and oceans management; fisheries and emblematic species; anthropogenic influences on the Baltic Sea; the French experience with marine fisheries policy; multiple-use management in Australia; recent management developments; and current management tools and the ecosystem approach. Indeed rather than trying to prove that certain fishing techniques are harmful, such as trawling (which is already clearly evident world wide), it is important to focus on alternative improved selective gear and methods. The workshop ended with a general discussion with participants, such as Dr. Vella, putting forth their questions.

The workshop's discussions were then presented to Plenary and pointed out the deplorable state of the world's fisheries, and the need for sustainable harvesting methods of marine resources. The workshop also noted that policies and governance in fisheries have failed globally, and recommended regulating access to marine resources and promoting sustainable exploitation methods. The participantsí recommended the development of observational tools to assess ecosystem management policies.

Malta National Biodiversity Platform website:

The Times of Malta, 17 March 2005