Africa is home to some of the most valuable natural ecosystems and species on the planet. Worldwide, more than 16 000 plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. The monitoring of Africa's 741 protected areas (representing over two million square kilometres, i.e. nearly half the total area of the EU) plays a vital role in biodiversity protection, conservation and the sustainable management of natural resources. “The Assessment of African Protected Areas”, an online information system based on the latest advances in satellite technology, monitors trends in fire, vegetation, and rainfall. It allows park managers to compare current fire activity, vegetation growth or rainfall against seasonal norms. This information will help African nations to achieve the goal of reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.
Natural ecosystems are in rapid decline. Major habitats are disappearing at a speed never observed before. The rate of species extinction is several orders of magnitude higher than the rate observed from the fossil record. The European Commission contributes to some of the biggest and most successful programmes to support conservation and protected area management in Africa. EU Heads of State and Government agreed in 2001 to halt the loss of biodiversity in the EU by 2010 and to restore habitats and natural systems.
Expanding human population and the interdependency between poverty, ecosystems and biodiversity are having an increasingly negative effect on the wildlife and environment of protected areas. Park managers and resource planners need to know which parks are under the most pressure from human activity and from unseasonal environmental trends. The assessment system developed and managed by the European Commission's in-house scientific service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), measures this pressure, as well as the value of a park in terms of habitat and species. The website is updated every ten days and covers 741 protected areas, across 50 countries. It provides information on 280 mammals, 381 bird species and 930 amphibian species, along with a wide range of climatic, environmental and socioeconomic aspects. It is possible to compare the situation between parks in the same country or in the same ecosystem, making it an important tool to allocate future resources to places where they are needed most.
The EC will greatly benefit from concrete support in the identification of priority areas for intervention in order to continue playing an active role in reducing biodiversity loss in Africa. But this new assessment tool will also provide other international organisations with useful information on biodiversity value and threats, and will support decision making and fund allocation processes. The information system helps policy and decision makers in the allocation of funds for the sustainable management of the natural resources. Wildlife Services and non-governmental organisations in Africa welcome this system as it allows them to see the events that are occurring in many of the protected areas.
The Assessment of African Protected Areas can be found at: http://www-tem.jrc.it/pa/