Shocking survey of world’s protected areas makes for grim reading

The rapid urbanisation of the human species has increasingly threatened some of the world’s most coveted natural wonders, resulting in many countries designating places as conservation areas.

However, a new study published by the University of Queensland, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Northern British Columbia in the journal Science shows the reality is rather alarming.

The researchers found that one-third of the world’s protected areas – equating to almost 4m sq km – are now under intense human pressure due to road building, grazing and urbanisation.

To put this into perspective, this makes the affected are almost 50 times the size of Ireland.

Described as a reality check by the researchers, the findings showed that since 1992, the global extent of protected areas has roughly doubled in size under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The 202,000 designated sites under the CBD cover more than 15pc of the world’s landmass, with its goal being to have 17pc of the planet by the end of the decade.

Creating areas for the sake of it

To determine how much human activity had encroached, the researchers looked at ‘human footprint’ maps which showed that 32.8pc of protected land is highly degraded, while protected areas created before the CBD was ratified had 55pc encroachment.

It showed that governments are overestimating the space available for nature inside protected areas, while claiming that unprotected areas are in fact protected.

This, the team said, explains why despite there being an increase in protected areas, biodiversity in these regions are still in catastrophic decline.

The most impacted areas were found in Asia, Europe and Africa, but some of the least impacted are located in Cambodia, Bolivia and Ecuador where greater conservation efforts have been made.

“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,” said Prof James Watson, the study’s senior author.

“The challenge is to improve the management of those protected areas that are most valuable for nature conservation to ensure they safeguard it.”

View over Ngorongoro conservation area in Tanzania. Image: Nick Fox/Shutterstock

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