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[BALI] A centre for the study of Indonesia's rich biodiversity has been launched in Bali as the United States moves ahead with its science diplomacy programme.

The Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center, located at the island's Udayana University, was launched last month (10 August) and is now fully operational, Celly Catharina, a marine programme specialist with the US development agency USAID, in Jakarta, told SciDev.Net.

It was established with US$800,000 from the United States, part of a US$136 million partnership focusing on science, environment, society and technology that was agreed by the two nations in June.

"This summer semester a total of 60 Indonesian and US students and scientists have been working in the centre with guidance from US [universities]," said Catharina.

The project brings together three Indonesian universities and two in the United States: Old Dominion University, Virginia, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world with a vast treasure of land-based and marine life, much of it still undiscovered. The archipelago of more than 17,500 islands is estimated to hold around 12 per cent of the mammal species and 19 per cent of the birds on the planet.

But the country's researchers published fewer than 50 biodiversity research studies between 1992 and 2003, the most recent period for which there is data, compared with 250 from the Caribbean region and 450 from the United Kingdom — which has far less biodiversity — according to data provided to SciDev.Net by USAID.

The centre's research should benefit ordinary Indonesians, said Catharina. For example, the research will be used to support the development of marine protected areas, which can improve the livelihoods of local people by providing them with extra income from tourism and improved fisheries.

Catharina said the Bali centre, an "integral part" of US science diplomacy efforts in Indonesia, would further strengthen ties between US and Indonesian universities.

"The centre is fully in support of US science diplomacy efforts to expand partnerships from US universities to develop Indonesian capacity in marine and ocean sciences."