Madagascar and the California Academy of Science
There has been a great deal of press about the newly opened California Academy of Science. San Francisco has reason to be proud not only of the beautiful new building but also the internationally recognized scientific institute. Many people may not realize how old the organization is and how far a field the Academy’s fingers reach. For example the harbor on Isla Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands is named Academy Bay. While San Francisco was suffering from the 1906 earthquake and the disastrous fire; scientists were busy collecting specimens in the Galapagos. Their ship, the Academy, was anchored for months in that bay. The most extensive collection of plant and animal species outside of the islands themselves is here in the Bay area.
I just returned from a month in Madagascar. Located off the eastern coast of Africa, it is just about as far away as you can be from California and still be on the Planet Earth. This fourth largest island in the world has been separated from other landmasses for well over 150 million years. Most of its plants and animals have evolved in isolation. The organisms are so unique that Madagascar is often referred to as the Eighth Continent. It is said that had Darwin visited Madagascar instead of the Galapagos he would have been just as inspired.
Madagascar’s escalating human population with its attendant poverty, slash and burn agriculture, and cutting of trees for charcoal production is resulting in rapid deforestation, serious loss of topsoil and intense fragmentation of the little remaining wild regions. The world community has long recognized this island as one of the top biological hotspots of the planet.
For the past decade Cal Academy has been sending scientists from its various departments to study and collect specimens. In November 2006, the Academy opened the Madagascar Biodiversity Center in the capital city of Antananarivo. Its primary focus is to coordinate the study Madagascar’s vanishing plant and invertebrate fauna and to train local biologists. The data gathered will help the government make smart conservation decisions hopefully stemming the extinction of plants and animals from this most incredible island. This is good world work indeed.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.