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Department ofBotany

No. 122
June 1993

Editor: Jane Villa-Lobos


Development in the tropics is damaging coastal mangrove swamps, coral reefs, fisheries and other natural resources, which is threatening the long term economic prosperity the development is intended to promote. To counter this trend, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has joined with the government of Belize and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to sponsor two workshops for Belizean high school teachers. It is hoped these workshops will eventually reach every part of Belizean society with the message that mangroves are fragile natural resources and must be conserved.

Following a successful pilot in 1992, the first workshop will take place July 8-15 at Blackbird Cay, Turneffe Atoll, off the coast of Belize, where the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has been studying coral reefs and swamps for over 20 years.

The workshops, conceived and organized by Ilka C. Feller and Marsha Sitnik, will consist of curriculum-based lectures, field trips, and discussions on mangrove and marine ecology. Teachers will receive educational materials, including books and slides.

Instructors for the course are noted resource managers, biologists and conservationists. Cooperating institutions include: Belize Audubon Society, Programme for Belize, Belize Ministry of Education, Belize Departments of Forestry and Fisheries, and Belize Technical College.


By Dylan Fuller

Biodiversity Prospecting: Using Genetic Resources for Sustainable Development is a first-of-its-kind analysis of the laws, contracts, and organizations needed to promote conservation and assure that profits from biodiversity - a region's total stock of genetic material (DNA), species and ecosystems - are divided equitably. The search for wild species that can yield new medicines, better crops, and raw materials for industry can now help protect the environments and habitats of plants and animals.

In recent years, biotechnology advances that made high-speed screening of chemical compounds from wild species possible have fueled the boom in biodiversity prospecting, which is currently being pursued in a policy vacuum in the world's biological "gold mines." The groundbreaking agreement between Costa Rica's National Biodiversity Institute (INBio), a non-profit organization, and the U.S.-based pharmaceutical firm, Merck & Co., has received widespread attention because of its close link to conservation efforts.

About 25% of all U.S. prescription drugs are derived from plants, and sales of these drugs alone were estimated at over $15 billion in 1990. The tropical regions are a prime source of useful compounds due, at least in part, to the high diversity of living organisms. Japan has launched a major biodiversity research program in Micronesia, the U.S. National Institute of Health is screening a wide variety of species for compounds active against the HIV virus and cancer, and both Kenya and Indonesia are establishing programs similar to the one in Costa Rica.

Since bioprospecting will not necessarily promote conservation nor fuel economic growth in developing countries, the authors recommend guidelines that would ensure both. The increasing values of genetic and species resources to private industries has created incentives for new types of institutional arrangements like those contained in the INBio-Merck agreement. INBio provides Merck with chemical extracts from wild organisms for the drug screening program in return for a two-year research budget of $1.1 million and royalties on any resulting commercial products.

As governments North and South try to come to grips with the requirements of the Convention on Biodiversity, this book helps explain policy mechanisms by which developing countries can explore and profit from their biodiversity. Although virtually no precedent exists for national legislation to regulate wild biodiversity prospecting, the 160 nations that signed the international biodiversity treaty must pass legislation that establishes just such policy framework.

Considered a "watershed in the history of biodiversity prospecting" the INBio-Merck agreement represents a shift in industry focus and suggests the true economic potential of biological resources, and the value of biodiversity. Moreover, it demonstrates the kind of partnership the Convention on Biological Diversity seeks to promote. Thus, Biodiversity Prospecting is a guide to this new policy arena of bioprospecting.

Biodiversity Prospecting, published by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in collaboration with INBio, Rainforest Alliance, and the African Centre for Technology Studies, elaborates on the recommendations in the Global Biodiversity Strategy. The strategy was developed by WRI, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Conservation Union.

Copies of the book can be obtained for $29.95 plus $3 shipping and handling from WRI Publications, P.O. Box 4852, Hampden Station, Baltimore, MD 21211.


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Hammer, J. 1993. The war to save the Tsavo Reserve. Newsweek April 12: 54. (Kenya)

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Higashi, G. and Yamamoto, M. 1993. Rediscovery of "extinct" Lentipes concolor (Pisces; Gobiidae) on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii. Pacific Science 47(2): 115-117.

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