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April 1,1997

Thomas Lovejoy, Smithsonian Institution:

It is not only with a sense of pleasure but also with considerable excitement that I welcome Administrator Goldin, as well as Tony Janetos and other NASA staff, plus the representatives of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to the Smithsonian for this workshop. The Smithsonian with its public-private partnership is both host and participant in this workshop, which fits neatly into its mandate for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge" and also with a concern, born in its earliest years, for the state of the environment and what we today call collectively "biodiversity."

Those of us who work in conservation biology and the conservation of biological diversity have long taken advantage of the data we refer to somewhat vaguely as remote sensing imagery. Certainly since the initiation of the Landsat program, efforts of this sort have been measurably strengthened through the use of satellite imagery. "Pixel" became part of our everyday lexicon. What we will discuss in this workshop will powerfully magnify this relationship.

At this point, we can only dimly discern what NASAs "Mission to Planet Earth" can contribute. For starters, it can help us produce a comprehensive global picture of the state of natural vegetation (in particular forests) and help determine the trends in natural vegetation cover. Given what we know about the imperiled forests and other habitats of the world, this is clearly an approach and information long overdue. In addition, by being openly available to all, NASA imagery can virtually eliminate the frequent and frustrating phenomenon of arguing over what the rates of deforestation or other habitat conversion actually are....and let us get on with the real job, namely conservation.

An interesting example of the power of combining remote sensing imagery and what field biologists love to call ground truth, has emerged from the efforts of Jim Tucker and Dave Skole on the one hand and Smithsonian and Brazilian scientists on the other. Drs. Tucker and Skole put together a remote sensing analysis of deforestation in the Amazon of Brazil. At the same time, scientists working on the forest fragments project, a joint collaborative effort of the Smithsonian and Brazil's National Institute for Amazon Research, developed important data about the changes occurring in the edges of the forest fragments. In some cases these effects reached hundreds of meters deep into the fragments, so that the unaffected "natural" part of the fragment was less -- sometimes considerably less (in the case of smaller fragments) -- than the whole. Combining both sets of data, Tucker and Skole were able to estimate that the actual impact of deforestation from the perspective of the biodiversity rich natural forest was considerably greater than estimates based simply on the basis of presence or absence of trees.

This workshop seeks to develop this very sort of interactive richness on a much broader and more ambitious scale. The synergies that will surely ensue between the NGO representatives and NASA's scientists will be in the great tradition of public-private partnership that James Smithson bequeathed to this nation. Congratulations in advance for what will redound to the benefit of life on earth -- a worthy mission in itself.

Douglas Hall, The Nature Conservancy:

I approach this issue from an unusual perspective. I just left the government where I was the Assistant Secretary at NOAA, where we used information developed by NASA on a daily basis to forecast the weather and make fundamental public policy decisions. I have seen the power of NASA's technology in helping us understand the atmosphere and climate change. Applying these capabilities to the conservation of biodiversity offers tremendous potential. For example, a few weeks after I joined NOAA, we started using remote sensing data to track the temperature of the Gulf Stream off the coast of South Carolina. We were able to correlate temperature with the location of a highly-endangered species of sea turtle. This relationship showed that the turtles favor the edge between cold and warm water zones and enabled us to predict their distribution. In this case, fishermen could be required to use turtle excluder devices in those places where turtles were likely to be found. Being able to track movements in the current allowed us to make adjustments in management, limiting the impact on the fisherman, but preserving the species. These types of experiences indicate the advances that can be made by applying NASA's technology to biodiversity conservation challenges.

At The Nature Conservancy, we are using this technology in the ACE Basin in South Carolina to classify natural communities. At the Altamaha River Bioreserve in Georgia, we are using remote sensing data to establish a baseline ecological characterization of most of Georgia's coastal wetlands. Remote sensing data played a key part in a rapid ecological assessment in Jamaica; helping to understanding land cover and land use on the entire island. To accomplish this, we have to understand what data are available and how to use the data in a productive way. We need to apply remote sensing in a timely manner to real decisions that have a real impact on what we do.

We are asked to identify some of the challenges. It is a lot easier to get money for a piece of hardware than it is to get money for the research that is necessary to understand how best to use that hardware. I remember having discussions with OMB about who would pay for the ground stations for Landsat. We had a $300 million satellite and we were arguing whether we would spend $12 million to be able to get any useful data out of it -- a clear understanding of what we are up against as far as the political system. Making sure that we make the investments that are necessary to make the best use of these data is vital.

At NOAA, we established a center in South Carolina that dealt with coastal issues. A third of the time was spent in using remote sensing data to better manage the coastal areas of the nation. That type of investment is necessary in order to be able to bring all the information together. The Nature Conservancy has made a lot of progress, but we do not have the capacity to utilize fully the data at this point. We need to get enough funding in this area for the research necessary to understand the technology and how best to use it.

Another challenge is to place the proper emphasis on applied research and make sure that we have the information available in a timely manner to really make an impact on decisions. There is always tension within the government and research institutions between applied research and more basic research. We have to work very hard to achieve a balance. Both are critical, but if we forgo applied research, we lose an important opportunity to solve pressing biodiversity conservation issues. We are anxious to work with you to find ways that will unlock the potential of applying NASA's capabilities and resources.

Francesca Grifo, American Museum of Natural History, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation:

The American Museum of Natural History has as its mission to discover, interpret and disseminate -- through scientific research and education -- knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe. Until recently, the Museum has achieved this goal through building collections of species and artifacts from around the world and presenting these collections to the public. It is interesting that you mentioned the satellite Meriwether Lewis, as we have been supporting explorers such as Meriwether Lewis for over 125 years. However, in order to meet the growing biodiversity crisis, the AMNH and other Natural History museums are going through a rebirth. We are committed to multidisciplinary initiatives that apply our research to the conservation of biodiversity. The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the AMNH, of which I am the Director, was created in 1993 with the aim of identifying applications of the Museum's extensive scientific data to conservation challenges.

This workshop presents an exciting opportunity for Museums and NASA to collaborate on a new way of thinking. During the next few days we hope to gain a better understanding of the interface between the type of highly-detailed spatial data that Museum communities are able to produce and the different types of data that NASA has to offer. It is our hope that through this partnership we can apply remotely sensed data, in combination with collections and other data, to address current biodiversity conservation issues. Specifically, we aim to use remote sensing and GIS as tools in establishing a more efficient and rapid method of characterizing the distribution of biodiversity over large geographic areas.

The CBC is currently supporting a project in Madagascar that represents the kind of research that would benefit from a partnership with NASA. In collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society and CARE International, researchers are studying the patterns of migration in endangered Humpback whales. The goals of this project are representative of the broader goals of the CBC: (1) to apply scientific research to making specific management decisions, including marine reserve placement, humpback population management, fisheries management, and the development of ecotourism; (2) to provide essential resources for increasing international scientific capacity through collaborations with Malagasy scientists and training Malagasy students; (3) to promote meaningful dialogue among the local community, scientists, students, the Malagasy government, the Museum and other NGOs; (4) to broaden the accessibility, availability, and the applicability of scientific information through electronic communication as well as more traditional venues, and (5) to foster collaboration between NGOs and government partners to address key issues in biodiversity conservation.

Currently, researchers on this project are depending upon genetic and photographic data to examine the whales' migration patterns. These methods are important, but somewhat limited in their utility, as they may not reveal where whales migrate when they leave the breeding area in Madagascar. Any conservation in Madagascar needs to be coupled with similar conservation efforts along the migratory path and at long-term feeding sites. Satellite telemetry can be used to track these individual whales along their migratory paths. Satellite data are also valuable for estimating factors that influence habitat preferences in whales, such as chlorophyll counts and sea surface temperature. Through a partnership with NASA, we hope to expand our knowledge of available data for use in long-range tracking and to meet other organizations with interest or experience in this field.

While the whale project serves as an example of current research that would be aided by a partnership with NASA, we believe that the Museum's existing collections and future expeditions could be similarly enhanced through this collaboration. We believe that our combined efforts could serve as an important source for public outreach. The new Hall of Biodiversity presents an excellent opportunity to display satellite imagery and discuss changes over time in land cover and the effects of human disturbance on the land. There are many instances in which this kind of imagery can be a very powerful tool to convey conservation issues to the public. We are very excited to enter into this partnership with NASA and other organizations interested in biodiversity conservation.

Cecily Majerus, Center for Marine Conservation:

Thank you, Dr. Lovejoy, for including the marine perspective in conservation work. We also think that it is a very important piece for understanding global biodiversity. On behalf of the Center for Marine Conservation, I want to thank NASA for organizing this workshop. The CMC's mission is to protect the ocean's environment and to preserve marine biodiversity. The center focuses its attention on the two thirds of the world's surface that is covered by marine water. The oceans are also deep, and when you think about it, marine animals live in a three dimensional world that is very different from our two dimensional world. This means that roughly 98% of the biosphere is marine. Thirty two of the thirty three animal phyla, the highest level of diversity, occur in the sea. Fifteen of those phyla are only found in the sea. As we learn more about the sea, we learn that species diversity is much higher than we originally thought, yet we still know very little about marine ecosystems. We do know that marine species are critically important components of global biodiversity, and we greatly appreciate NASA's effort to reach out to the conservation community to help resolve the mystery of biodiversity. We also look forward to this workshop over the next couple of days.

While we hope that NASA will find new technologies to study biodiversity in the future, we are also interested in the data that NASA has already collected. Most of those data have not been analyzed from a marine perspective and that's where our interest lies. For example, we are currently aware of the applications of NASA's technologies for marine conservation and fisheries issues in the Galapagos and New England areas. But we would like to know more about this research and data. We also know that NASA technology has provided data on sea surface temperature, currents and phytoplankton concentrations in those areas. We are interested in applying this information to the work we are doing in a number of regions. We believe it would be important in addressing marine conservation in the Caribbean region.

We have many questions: What kind of information can NASA technology provide with respect to circulation patterns in the Caribbean? How can this information be assessed and developed? (It would be useful in addressing larval dispersal and recruitment.) What are the spatial and temporal scales? Will this information be available in shallow areas close to land?

Can satellite-generated data be useful in tracking pollution? Do these data include nutrients and sediments and their impacts, especially in near-shore waters where such impacts are most important. For example, can NASA's data or technology be used to track local pollution in the Florida Keys, or to predict the effects of water from the Florida Bay on the local coral reefs? What is the spatial and temporal scale of such information, and to what extent is it available for shallow water or coastal land?

NASA's technology has already been used successfully to address certain issues in terrestrial conservation. We are interested in extending its use to similar issues in the marine world. Significant progress has been made in mapping terrestrial habitat and ecosystems and in the development of databases for areas under management. We are interested in exploring the possibility of applying this partnership with NASA to marine areas.

Among the questions we would like answered in this area are: What is the potential for applying NASA technology in order to map marine ecosystems and habitats? How can such technology be applied to deducing changes in shallow water benthic communities such as those that have occurred in the Caribbean reefs over the last 25 years? To what depth can NASA data be useful in identifying these benthic changes? A good grasp of the utility of NASA's data in this regard is essential for the development of significant marine applications. Therefore, will NASA be interested in initiating a pilot project on these specific problems during the International Year of the Reef, which is this year? If you can't do it this year, next year is the International Year of the Ocean. Our second question in this area is: to what extent has the marine component been included in NASA's database planning? Is NASA interested in expanding such work in the marine realm?

We would like to acknowledge the fact that the responsibility for conserving biodiversity in the oceans falls disproportionately on small island nations. Those of us who live on continents tend to see our countries as large land masses. Our marine jurisdictions, even when they extend out to 200 nautical miles, are literally marginal compared to our land masses. But in an island state, the radius of 200 nautical miles may result in a marine jurisdiction one to two times larger than its land area. This is particularly true in the tropical seas. Islands have jurisdiction over enormous shares of the shallow waters where marine biodiversity is known to be extremely rich. These are precisely the areas that NASA's data and technology are likely to be most useful. NASAs international programs have been proven to be very successful when NASA works with other partner countries that can support a space program. But for many of the island countries, it is difficult to provide a full array of the institutions and basic services that any nation needs, let alone develop the capacity to work on an equal footing with one of the world's largest and most advanced technological agencies. So our final question is: How can we help NASA solve this problem of scale? How can we work effectively with NASA, so that NASA can work with new national partners either individually or clustered into regional programs? We raise this point because the small island countries, especially in the tropics, are where much of the action is with biodiversity.

Eric Dinerstein, World Wildlife Fund:

Scientists are often challenged to come up with impacts on the earth that are verifiable and real and that can show degradation in the quality of the earth's ecosystems. We can point to things like rises in atmospheric levels of CO2, NOx , and to land-use change. Those are three things that we can demonstrate, over the last 30 or 40 years, have gotten much worse. But if we look specifically at which one of those is going to have the greatest impact on biodiversity and which one is likely to be most irreversible, it is land-use change and the loss of natural habitat. If you look around the world about 95% of all the dry forests on Earth are extremely threatened. In fact, tropical dry forests on average are much more threatened than tropical rain forests. We also can look at Mediterranean shrublands where 20% of all the world's plant species occur. These are highly degraded areas. We also look at temperate grasslands; perhaps the most threatened ecosystems on earth and here in our own back yard. So, there are many habitats that are going very quickly. If biological diversity were evenly distributed, then all we would have to do is go and get the latest satellite information to help us create better plans for conservation of natural areas. But the fact is that biological diversity is not evenly distributed. What the conservation community at large can help NASA with is to pinpoint those areas where our efforts over the next decade are going to do the most good, to try and reverse those changes in land use that are most deleterious to the conservation of biodiversity.

On Thursday (April 3, 1997), at the National Press Club, the World Wildlife Fund will be releasing the results of a three-year analysis called the Living Planet Campaign and specifically the Global 200 ecoregions (actually there are 232). This analysis is, for the first time, trying to identify the most important (for biodiversity) terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecoregions on Earth. This is the result of a three-year analysis done separately for different regions of the earth. It pinpoints all the different habitat types on Earth from tundra, grasslands, boreal forests, to tropical dry forest, flooded grasslands, and for the first time freshwater and marine ecosystems.

We are suggesting that it will be much more cost-effective to work with NASA and other agencies to target those areas that concentrate much of the world's biodiversity. There are some other very specific ways in which the conservation community can help NASA. It is all about asking the right questions, where and when to be working and at what scale.

Let me give you a few quick examples. I recently returned from Nepal, where we have been trying to conserve populations of endangered tigers. This relates to a larger issue of looking at landscapes. We have heard recently about the study that Jim Tucker did with David Skole in Rondonia (Brazil). It is very important to look at the loss and degradation of habitat, the fragmentation, but if we are very serious about trying to conserve biodiversity, we have to move from what I call landscape pathology, the devolution of landscape -- the deconstruction of them -- to a way of restoring them. Just recently, in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society, we published a book that for the first time identifies the distribution of tiger populations across Asia in the 159 polygons in which they occur. By using a technique of looking at habitat integrity, poaching pressure on tigers and their prey, and population structure of tigers, we have identified 26 places where tigers have the best chance of persistence over the long term. These are all areas that are going to require some degree of restoration. In Nepal, we have a project where we are looking at how we are restoring habitat step by step. In the last two years, an area that we have restored has five tigers living in it and ten rhinos were born there. This is the type of activity that is going to be needed, not just looking at fragmentation, but looking at how we maintain the dispersal corridors for tigers to move from one area to another or for wild elephant populations to still be able to migrate. We have to move beyond looking at what is happening in the world to looking at what we can do to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves, but for all those creatures that have no voice in their own future.

Silvio Olivieri, Conservation International:

All the speakers have made a very good case for how good the technology is, and there is no doubt that NASA has a long history of successes in meeting some of the major challenges we have had over the past 20 years. Nevertheless, we have not succeeded in realizing the full potential of the technology. We see opportunities all the time where we could use it better. That is why we are here. I hope this meeting will help us identify some of those missed opportunities and determine what we need to do in order to meet them.

We would like to have the information become much more day-to-day, an instrument that anyone can use. We would like field personnel to be able to use it in the field when doing analysis. Many reasons make this difficult. They are related to access, cost, performance of the tools, and to differences in the field side and the analytical side of assessments. The difficulty is also linked to the lack of coordinating mechanisms between institutions to share the information. One of the points we would like to discuss has to do with one of these applications: priority setting. We need to work on where we are investing our resources and which critical areas we should focus on. Conservation International has been working on several levels: at the local level through our rapid assessment program and recently, in Asia, Latin America and Africa, we have been developing the conservation priorities workshop approach. We have done more than a dozen exercises in Madagascar, and several others in Brazil. At the global level, there are the hotspots. Conservation and biodiversity hotspots have been a focus that we have used to plan many of our activities. The hotspot concept has been used since 1989 when Norman Myers came out with his first approach to hotspots. Recently, last February, we released a new revision of his analysis. We did a full revision of the hotspots. We came out with a list of twenty seven areas around the world packed with information on their diversity -- the endemic plants and vertebrates in these areas. Some of them even have 3-4% of their total plants endemic to the area. These twenty seven areas combined have more than 30% of total plant diversity because of those species that are endemic to those areas. The vertebrate data are similar.

Another concept that goes along with hotspot designation is the level of threat. We only classify an area as a "hotspot" if less than 25% of the untouched natural area is remaining. These are areas that have already been under major pressures. The remaining area of terrestrial hotspots only covers 2.1% of the total land surface of the Earth. We have 2% of the Earth that holds 30% of the Earth's plant species endemic to it and by extension can represent about 50% of the Earth's total terrestrial diversity. They are under a lot of pressure, an example is the case of Madagascar. This is not only an interesting framework for us, but for anyone who cares about biodiversity on Earth. We are talking about what happens to 2% of the Earth's surface that falls in both the tropical and temperate areas. Understanding what is happening to the biodiversity in these areas is very difficult. This will be one of the most compelling problems we face in the next century.

Can the technology help us understand land-use change and habitat degradation in these areas? This problem needs a partnership, it needs both field work and space work. It also needs integration between the science side and the policy side. How can we transfer the information that we generate to decision makers so we can have hope for the future?

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