Conservation Biology in the Pacific


The threats to biodiversity and ecological sustainability are the same throughout the world: expanding human populations; unregulated or poorly managed exploitation of forests, fisheries, and agricultural lands; escalating and unsustainable consumption of water; and global warming, among many others. Given that these issues are common and global, why focus on conservation biology in the Pacific region? We believe the fascination of the region lies in the conjunction of great biological and cultural diversity, both of which are in collision with the imposition of Western cultures and values.

Possibly no part of Earth has been so significantly affected by European colonization in so few years as Australasia and the South Pacific. It is a part of the world where extinction rates are high and conservation is limited by the small population of trained biologists and committed conservationists. Furthermore, the region's human population is vast, with political and industrial power often resting with recent migrants having little sympathy with indigenous traditions or nature conservation. Instead, many recent migrants have a prevailing “frontier” or “colonial” mentality in which the land is to be subdued and exploited.

The challenge is substantial. For example, most Australians think of Australia as a vast, pristine, and empty land, a nation glutted with resources. Their ecologically naïve view of the continent embraces not a little of Australia's famed children's story of a magic pudding, a pudding that was always as big as when it was served, no matter how much was eaten. This environmental naiveté is replicated across the Pacific Basin, with governments committed to measures of prosperity and progress defined by profits, jobs, and consumption. Even education and health are measured in terms of quantities (e.g., the number of degrees awarded at university or human longevity) and not in terms of quality (e.g., students who actually learn something or the proportion of aged people who remain independent while continuing to contribute to society). Australia's Prime Minister, the Honorable John Howard, recently commented, “what use is a pristine environment, when the economy is bankrupt.” He was responding to what he perceived as extreme environmental policies—nuclear disarmament, carbon taxes, an end to logging old-growth forest, and the Kyoto Treaty. This simplistic and erroneous idea that pristine environments have no value or make no contribution to the economy is pervasive among nations of the Pacific Basin.

Australia and New Zealand are technologically advanced societies with highly educated populations, yet within the Australasian region are peoples and cultures with less-developed economies who aspire to the same material wealth as they witness among their close neighbors. Also within the Pacific Basin are nations recently liberated from a colonial past and still learning to accommodate conflicting cultural values within borders drawn with no regard to contrasting cultures or ecosystem boundaries. None of these social and economic demands are conducive to the long-term conservation of biodiversity or to achieving economies and political systems that are ecologically or socially sustainable.

Nevertheless, there are signs in people's grassroots involvement in conservation and in the words of politicians (if not their actions) that there is increased awareness of the need to address environmental issues. The challenge for conservation biologists is to inform these concerns and assist in their translation into effective political action and social change.

One significant response to that challenge is an understanding reached in 2003 between the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), the society's Australasian section, and Surrey Beatty & Sons, the publisher of Pacific Conservation Biology, a journal devoted to the conservation of biodiversity in the Pacific Basin. As expressed in the February 2004 issue of the Society for Conservation Biology Newsletter, “The affiliation … is an exciting partnership designed to promote, support and broaden the reach of Australasian conservation and wildlife management research.”

The Society and Surrey Beatty have agreed to promote and offer subscriptions to each other's conservation journals. For SCB members, this has the advantage of convenience and cost savings. Pacific Conservation Biology gains by being promoted more widely outside Australasia. This should increase subscriptions to the journal and lead to a greater diversity of papers and views on conservation being submitted for publication.

For SCB, the arrangement provides the Australasian section with an established outlet for its news, with space in each issue of Pacific Conservation Biology made available to the section to communicate with members. In turn, it is anticipated this will expand the reach of the section's activities and increase membership. This provides a useful and growing link between environmental and societal nongovernmental organizations and the scientific community. Members are now able to join the section and subscribe to any of SCB's publications through Surrey Beatty. Membership, subscription, and news crosslinks are being developed between the SCB's Web site and that of Pacific Conservation Biology.

Although Surrey Beatty retains responsibility for Pacific Conservation Biology and its editorial policies, it gains the “advice and support” of the Society for Conservation Biology. This is facilitated by the appointment of the editor of Pacific Conservation Biology as an ex officio member of the Board of Directors of the Australasian Section and the Publications Committee of SCB. Already this has had significant benefits for the development of Pacific Conservation Biology.

Reaching an understanding with SCB and agreeing to promote each other's journals has provided the impetus for Pacific Conservation Biology to be published on a calendar-year schedule. It has also given the journal's editorial board access to the review of Conservation Biology by an international panel and a comprehensive survey of SCB's members. Because the interests and aims of Pacific Conservation Biology and Conservation Biology are so closely aligned, it is possible to use the panel's and readers' recommendations for Conservation Biology to plan the growth of Pacific Conservation Biology and help ensure that it remains relevant to subscribers and conservation interests in the Pacific.

Members of SCB will appreciate the significance of the understanding for them more clearly if they know a little more about Pacific Conservation Biology. The journal was launched in 1993 at a meeting of conservation biologists sponsored by the University of Queensland. That meeting failed to establish a conservation biology society in Australasia, but the advent of Pacific Conservation Biology was a key outcome, an event that has made a difference to conservation in the Pacific. Pacific Conservation Biology has achieved this by providing a forum for ideas, opinions, and news of Pacific conservation issues and by publishing significant research relevant to the conservation and management of the biota of this vast and biologically rich region. Pacific Conservation Biology's principal focus has been on the South Pacific and Australasia (Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and New Caledonia and associated islands and waters), which fits comfortably within the scope of the Australasian section of the SCB.

A special feature of the journal is its “Forum Essays,” in which authors discuss issues of conservation significance rather than present new data. The section encourages lively debate and the airing of ideas that unite the scientific and the social dimensions of conservation. We thank Ivor E. Beatty of Surrey Beatty, who embraced the idea of a journal dedicated to conservation in the Pacific, ensured that the journal was published quarterly, and never questioned the right of the journal's editors and authors to express frank and often contentious opinions on matters of conservation and science.

Because of the support provided by Surrey Beatty & Sons, Pacific Conservation Biology already caters to some of the views expressed by SCB members in the review of Conservation Biology. The role of Pacific Conservation Biology is to provide the means for conservation biologists in the Pacific and Australasia to present an alternative view of prosperity and social welfare, as well as to promote the conservation of cultural and biological diversity. Although it is easy to publish research and opinions supportive of government, it can be difficult to publish the results of research disagreeing with public policy or to use science as an advocacy tool. Pacific Conservation Biology encourages public debate on conservation issues and supports authors seeking to bridge the gap between the biological and social sciences.

Pacific Conservation Biology allows all views to be voiced, on the premise that open debate and discussion are fundamental to educating politicians and the public about the values of biodiversity and about our collective responsibilities toward other organisms. Free expression is also fundamental to the advancement of good science, whether or not we agree with authors' opinions or understand their relevance to society. Pacific Conservation Biology is a venue for education and a forum for dissent and new directions. With our partnership with the SCB we hope to encourage conservation biologists from outside the Pacific region to engage in open discussion, with their colleagues in Australasia and the Pacific, on conservation policy, land-use planning, and societal issues. As several respondents in the review of Conservation Biology expressed it, conservation is not only about other organisms, it is also about people and managing the interactions between human society and global ecosystems.

Within the past year, Pacific Conservation Biology has published a special issue on managing for biodiversity and sustainable agriculture within the Western Australian wheatbelt. Many of the contributors to this issue were farmers trying to achieve a sustainable balance between conserving nature and earning a livelihood from farming. Another issue this year is devoted to a set of papers on managing biodiversity within an agricultural landscape. Other papers have dealt with environmental policy and law, sustainable use of wildlife, bioethics, the conservation role of nongovernmental organizations, and veterinary conservation biology, representing a broad geographic, habitat, and taxonomic diversity of research papers. One of our goals is to foster the exchange of views among a diverse spectrum of organizations, researchers, industries, and institutions involved in fostering an ecologically sustainable human society.

New ideas? Want to share your research with a new audience?Pacific Conservation Biology is happy to let you put them to an Australasian audience. Reaching out to new colleagues will be one of the richest benefits that members of SCB can realize from the partnership with Pacific Conservation Biology. It is also an opportunity to contribute directly to the conservation of some of the world's most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems.

Address for correspondence: P.O. Box 154, Brooklyn, New South Wales 2083, Australia