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MEGADIVERSITY
Encyclopedia of life
Of the 170 countries in the world, a mere 17 countries lay claim to 70 percent of the world's biodiversity.

These countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, the United States, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have been labeled "megadiverse" by the United Nations Environment Program's World Conservation Monitoring Center, and have a large responsibility to protect and conserve their diverse yet fragile ecosystems.

The following is a quick glance at how some of these countries attempt to regulate, control, and conserve their unique and important natural resources.

Australia: The Department of the Environment and Water Resource (DEW) is a department of the Australian federal government responsible for protecting Australia's natural environment and cultural heritage. The department has set aside eight percent of Australia's land as terrestrial protected areas. Australia has also established significant marine reserves, such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and oversees protection of marine species near Antarctica.

The 1997 National Heritage Trust has recently taken over much of the responsibility in protecting and monitoring Australia's biodiversity. The Trust has a target of retaining at least 15 percent of the natural pre-European area of each forest habitat type, 60 per cent of existing old-growth forests and at least 90 per cent of existing high-quality wilderness forests, through the development of Regional Forest Agreements in different parts of the country.

China: The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) is a cabinet-level agency in the executive branch of the Chinese government, directly empowered by the Chinese State Department. Charged with protecting China's diverse environment, SEPA monitors and manages air and water quality, waste, radioactivity, and biodiversity. According to the OECD 2006 Environmental Performance review, China has received international recognition for its wetlands, biosphere reserves, and natural and cultural heritage preservation programs.

Outside of these established protected areas, ecological considerations have led to afforestation of large areas, such as initiatives to develop shelter forests in arid, mountainous and coastal areas, streamlining forest management (more stringent harvest quotas) and promoting farm forestry on land sensitive to soil erosion (grain for green policy). Various environmental protection programs within the country have begun to research and develop environmental programs dealing with alien species and endangered wildlife.

Mexico: The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) is Mexico's agency in charge of environmental protection and policy. While focusing on problems with waste and water, SEMARNAT has also made progress in protecting its rich biodiversity, such as protection of whales, sea turtles and dolphins, including successfully creating the world's largest whale sanctuary. Mexico has also established co-operation with like-minded countries that are also rich in biodiversity, with a view to creating an equitable system of natural resource use, especially regional environmental co-operation with other Latin American countries.

India: The Ministry of Environment and Forests is a cabinet ministry in the Government of India, responsible for overseeing environmental policy and procedures, as well as administration of the National Parks of India. It also controls the conservation and survey of the flora and fauna of India, forests, and other wilderness areas, the prevention and control of pollution, and the afforestation and the regeneration of degraded areas.

India has also worked on creating "landscape conservation," which involves protecting large geographical areas as a whole, not just land set aside for parks and reserves. For example, a certain "landscape conservation" could include wildlife reserves, communal forests, and even some private land. India has also launched specific programs, known as Project Tiger and Project Elephant, to safeguard the Bengal tiger and the elephant through extensive reserves and restrictions.

Sources: United Nations, The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, country Web sites.

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