AboutZoos, Since 2008


A third of the world’s pro­tected areas are being destroyed by humans

pub­lished 20 May 2018 | mod­i­fied 20 May 2018

A shock­ing study of the Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land, Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS), and Uni­ver­sity of North­ern British Colum­bia con­firms that one third of the world’s pro­tected areas — an aston­ish­ing 6 mil­lion km2 or about twice the size of India — are now under intense human pres­sure includ­ing road build­ing, graz­ing, and urbanisation.

Giraffes in protected area drilling activityGiraffes and drilling rig in back­ground.
Image credit: Paul Mulondo/​WCS

The study, pub­lished on 18 May in the jour­nal Sci­ence, is a real­ity check for nations striv­ing to meet com­mit­ments under the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity (CBD) to halt bio­di­ver­sity loss through pro­tected area cre­ation. Since 1992, the global extent of pro­tected areas has roughly dou­bled in size; more than 202,000 cover more than 15 per­cent of the world’s ter­res­trial area, with a goal of at least 17 per­cent cov­er­age by 2020.

Though man­age­ment objec­tives dif­fer, rang­ing from strict bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion areas to zones per­mit­ting cer­tain human activ­i­ties and sus­tain­able resource extrac­tion, the pri­mary goal of all pro­tected areas is to con­serve nature.

The authors looked at global “Human Foot­print” maps to make their assess­ment which shows that 32.8 per­cent of pro­tected land is highly degraded. For pro­tected areas cre­ated before the CBD was rat­i­fied in 1992, 55 per­cent have since expe­ri­enced human pres­sure increases. The authors warn that CBD goals will be severely under­mined if wide­spread human pres­sure con­tin­ues inside pro­tected areas.

Protected areas under human pressureSatel­lite images reveal the human pres­sure within many national parks. B: Kamianets-​Podilskyi, a city inside Podol­skie Tovtry National Park, Ukraine; C: Major roads within Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park; D: Agri­cul­ture and build­ings within Dado­hae­hae­sang National Park, South Korea.
Image credit: The Con­ver­sa­tion

A well-​run pro­tected area net­work is essen­tial in sav­ing species. If we allow our pro­tected area net­work to be degraded there is a no doubt bio­di­ver­sity losses will be exacerbated.

Kendall Jones, lead author, School of Earth and Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences and Cen­tre for Con­ser­va­tion and Bio­di­ver­sity Sci­ence, Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land, St. Lucia, Australia

The study shows that gov­ern­ments are over­es­ti­mat­ing the space avail­able for nature inside pro­tected areas. Gov­ern­ments are claim­ing these places are pro­tected for the sake of nature when in real­ity they aren’t. It is a major rea­son why bio­di­ver­sity is still in cat­a­strophic decline, despite more and more land being ‘protected’.

How­ever, the authors are not sug­gest­ing that high pres­sure pro­tected areas be de-​gazetted or de-​funded. To the con­trary, it is cru­cial that nations recog­nise the pro­found con­ser­va­tion gains that can be realised by upgrad­ing and restor­ing degraded pro­tected areas while respect­ing the needs of local people.

The good news
The most impacted pro­tected areas were found in Asia, Europe, and Africa in places with mas­sive human pop­u­la­tions. But the study did find some good news: pro­tected areas with strict bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion objec­tives are sub­ject to sig­nif­i­cantly lower lev­els of human pressure.

Some of these least impacted pro­tected areas include Keo Seima Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary in Cam­bo­dia, Madidi National Park in Bolivia, and Yasuni Bios­phere Reserve in Ecuador — places where WCS has made con­sid­er­able con­ser­va­tion invest­ments and there­fore has suc­cess­fully staved off degradation.

Accord­ing Pro­fes­sor James Wat­son of WCS and Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land, and the study’s senior author: “We know pro­tected areas work — when well-​funded, well-​managed and well placed, they are extremely effec­tive in halt­ing the threats that cause bio­di­ver­sity loss and ensure species return from the brink of extinc­tion. There are also many pro­tected areas that are still in good con­di­tion and pro­tect the last strong­holds of endan­gered species world­wide. The chal­lenge is to improve the man­age­ment of those pro­tected areas that are most valu­able for nature con­ser­va­tion to ensure they safe­guard it.”

Added Wat­son: “Most impor­tantly we’ve got to rec­og­nize that these jew­els in the crown need sup­port — there are some pro­tected areas that are safe­guard­ing nature and that still haven’t got any evi­dence of human encroach­ment in them. We must ensure these val­ues are maintained.”

As pro­tected areas are effec­tive in reduc­ing the loss of nat­ural habi­tat, and sus­tain­ing wildlife pop­u­la­tions these areas should be at the core of any con­ser­va­tion strat­egy. Pro­tected areas are most effec­tive at pro­tect­ing nat­ural ecosys­tems and their com­ple­ment of bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem services.

(Source: WCS news release, 17.05.2018)

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