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

18 May 2018

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

Despite being designated as protected areas, much of the world’s natural wonders are actually under serious threat from human pressure.

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, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Northern British Columbia in the journal Science shows that 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, the affected area is almost 50 times the size of Ireland.

Described as a reality check by the researchers, the findings show 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 the goal 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 upon these areas, 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, while 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

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic