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Cover Photo: The Llanos de Moxos, vast savannas of the Beni department. KBA Blue-throated Macaw Reserves in Bolivia. Teodoro Camacho, Armonía.

Conservation is not merely a romantic endeavor to preserve species but a fundamental act to maintain the ecological balance that underpins life on the planet. This is the message from an interview with biologist Gustavo Rey-Ortiz, who emphasizes the crucial importance of conservation areas, including national and subnational Protected Areas, Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), and other similar initiatives, in the protection of biodiversity and the sustenance of ecosystems.

“For many years, people have viewed these spaces as remote places where only animals or plants are cared for, without realizing that we all benefit, whether we live there, nearby, or far away. We reap the benefits of environmental functions, including regulation of the hydrological cycle, which is not only at a local level but also at a regional level. For instance, what happens in our Amazon can influence rainfall in parts of the mountain range or valleys, water retention, air purification, among other factors”, he explains.

Gustavo Rey has experience in managing hydrobiological resources and collaborates with local communities in Bolivia. He developed strategies for comprehensive ecosystem management, considering the administration of protected areas, wetlands, and natural resources. He underscores how protected areas act as sanctuaries for a diverse range of living organisms.

Bolivia has a unique variety of ecosystems and species due to its geography, and KBA, apart from being the most important places for the long-term conservation of the most vulnerable and unique species and ecosystems, also play fundamental roles in providing essential ecosystem services such as regulating the hydrological cycle, purifying the air, and supplying food and raw materials, among others.

Rey characterizes Bolivia as a “trailblazer in the region” for implementing participatory management of protected areas, where local stakeholders are involved in territorial and operational planning for these regions. He notes that Bolivia’s commitment is evident in creating 23 national protected areas, over 85 subnational protected areas, and 11 wetlands declared of international importance (Ramsar sites). In this scenario, KBAs also represent an opportunity to promote conservation and management actions both within protected areas and in other locations.

“In 2010 and 2012, we were pioneers with the enactment of the Law of Mother Earth Rights and the Framework Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well, which legally recognize the rights of nature and establish a comprehensive framework for the conservation, use, and sustainable exploitation of natural resources. This law, unique in its kind, reflects the path that Bolivia embarked upon regarding biodiversity conservation”, he points out. Additionally, he emphasizes that these regulations recognise the principles of actors’ economic and social development, as well as their knowledge and wisdom.

Bolivia is also a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar, aimed at conserving and rationally using wetlands and their resources.

“Bolivia stands out in nature conservation due to its innovative legal approach, extensive system of protected areas, commitment to international agreements, and promotion of sustainable practices in natural resource utilization. These combined efforts underscore the significance the country places on protecting biodiversity and the well-being of Mother Earth”, Rey highlights.

Despite progress, the biologist notes that financial challenges persist as a hurdle to the effective management of conservation areas. Insufficient economic resources may curtail patrolling, research, and environmental education operations. However, the ongoing process of updating KBAs in Bolivia, currently underway, presents an opportunity to address these limitations and enhance biodiversity management.

“Protected areas not only serve as refuges for a wide range of species but are also indispensable for maintaining the healthy ecosystems that sustain life overall”, Rey emphasizes.

Photo: The biologist Gustavo Rey conducts a fishery monitoring in Cachuela Esperanza.

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