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BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation

08.07.2008
Francisco González, president of the BBVA Foundation: “One of the biggest challenges facing humanity is to halt the destruction of the environment and, especially, of biodiversity. This is a task that must be urgently addressed and in which we must all play our part. At BBVA, we believe it is our duty to do all we can for the sustainability of the natural resource base”

United States researchers Harold Mooney and Peter Raven, regarded as the architects of the modern science of Biodiversity, share the 500,000 euro prize in the category of Scientific Research in Ecology and Conservation Biology.

According to both scientists 60% of the services that ecosystems perform have suffered some impairment, including fresh water, fisheries, air purification, the regulation of regional and local climate or protection against natural disasters and epidemics.

The BBVA Foundation Award for Biodiversity Conservation Projects in Latin America, with a cash prize of 250,000 euros, goes to Mexico’s Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda, while the winner of the BBVA Foundation Award for Knowledge Dissemination and Communication in Biodiversity Conservation, funded with 80,000 euros, is environmental journalist Benigno Varillas.

The Minister of Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, Elena Espinosa, and BBVA Foundation president Francisco González were guests of honor at today’s presentation ceremony for the BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation. The event took place in the Foundation’s Madrid headquarters, the Marqués de Salamanca Palace (Madrid – Spain).

The president of the BBVA Foundation, Francisco González, stressed in this speech that “One of the biggest challenges facing humanity is to halt the destruction of the environment and, especially, of biodiversity. This is a task that must be urgently addressed and in which we must all play our part”. “Biodiversity conservation”, added Francisco González, “is clearly one of the top priorities of the 21st century and companies are an important part of that battle; at BBVA, we believe it is our duty to do all we can for the sustainability of the natural resource base”. In closing, the BBVA Foundation president remarked that “the work of the award winners here today has brought us to a deeper understanding of the effects of biodiversity losses as well as showing us how conservation efforts can generate wealth and well-being for the community”.

An international award jury honored the eminent scientists Harold Mooney (Stanford University) and Peter Raven (president of the Missouri Botanical Garden) ex aequo with the Award for Scientific Research in Ecology and Conservation Biology, carrying a 500,000 euros cash prize. The contribution of these two researchers has been instrumental in improving our understanding of biodiversity losses, and they also lead the world in seeking ways to prevent the destruction of planetary ecosystems.

The work of these two experts has been vital to the shift in perspective that has taken place in conservation biology research, away from a species-centered approach to one based on ecosystems and the services they provide to humanity. Mooney and Raven have demonstrated that species adaptations and interactions are the two phenomena that shape ecosystems and modulate their responses to climate change and the pressure exerted by human activity.

Mooney is considered the leading voice in the biology of global change. His work has been instrumental in incorporating biology into the study of global environmental issues, including climate change, biodiversity loss and the action of invasive species. And Raven is the author of key contributions in the biological sciences field; among them the co-evolution concept – the evolution of two unrelated species that nevertheless maintain an intimate ecological relationship – which he formulated on the basis of his studies into butterflies and the plants they feed on. A kind of “arm’s race” occurs between such species in which the plants develop mechanisms to repel insects, and the latter evolve, in turn, to overcome these new defenses.

In the last 50 years, human beings have transformed their environment with greater speed and intensity than at any other time in history. Scientists estimate that 60% of the services supplied by ecosystems have suffered some degradation or are being used unsustainably, including fresh water, fisheries, air and water purification, the regulation of regional and local climate or protection against natural risks and epidemics.

Harold Mooney and Peter Raven contend that the combination of rapid population growth (to a current 6,700 million people), the continuing consumerist frenzy and the proliferation throughout the planet of harmful and, frequently, ill-conceived technologies is ravaging our biodiversity: estimates drawn up for diverse groups of organisms confirm that many are undergoing a reduction in population size and dispersal areas, and it is reckoned that between 10% and 30% of mammal, bird and amphibian species are currently under threat of extinction. In sum, biodiversity loss is happening now and some of the damage can never be reversed.

The BBVA Foundation Award for Biodiversity Conservation Projects in Latin America, with a cash prize of 250,000 euros, goes to Mexico’s Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda “for demonstrating with their Management Program of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve that biodiversity conservation”, in the words of the jury, “generates wealth and well-being for the community”.

In 1999, the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda set in train a co-management model involving shared responsibilities between the Mexican Government and civil society for the management of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve; the protected space with the richest ecological diversity in all of Mexico with a total extension of 383,567 hectares. Because of its location between two distinct bio-geographical regions, Sierra Gordo harbors 15 types and subtypes of vegetation, as well as over 1,800 vascular plant species, 124 fungi species and 550 vertebrates, including protected species like the jaguar, black bear, Humboldt butterfly and military macaw. This project has not only achieved quantifiable results in the restoration of ecosystems and landscapes, it has also helped raise additional income from activities compatible with the area’s biodiversity, which have benefited 107 local communities.

The BBVA Foundation Award for Knowledge Dissemination and Communication in Biodiversity Conservation, with a prize of 80,000 euros, goes to environmental journalist Benigno Varillas, founder of nature magazine Quercus “for the quality of his long and pioneering professional career in the environmental communication field”. The jury also underscored that Benigno Varillas has created a new school in the communication of ecological and nature conservation values in Spain.

The BVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation, whose global prize money of over one million euros is the highest of its kind internationally, seek to recognize and support the work of the scientific community, organizations and professionals devoting their energies to the central challenge of the 21st century that is biodiversity conservation. These Awards exemplify the BBVA Foundation’s commitment to the goals of sustainable development and an improved quality of life for all citizens.

Javier Fernández | alfa
Further information:
http://www.fbbva.es
http://www.fbbva.es/TLFU/premios/pbiod_07/tlfb_pbiod_i_index.htm

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