News and Notes

Protected Areas Under Threat

Human activities are placing growing pressure on the biodiversity of Earth’s lands and seas. According to a study published recently in Science, protected areas – such as national parks, wilderness areas, community conserved areas, and nature reserves – are experiencing declines in their ability to protect nature because of the growth of human activities within them.

Since the 1992 Earth Summit, protected land has roughly doubled in size, with more than 202,000 protected areas now covering almost 15% of terrestrial areas. “The increasing growth and overall extent of protected areas is deservedly celebrated as a conservation success story,” the authors said in the study, “and there is no doubt that well-managed protected areas can preserve biodiversity.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that “human activities are prevalent across many protected areas, with only 42% of protected land free of any measurable human pressure.” Further, almost 33% of protected lands are under “intense human pressure.”

The primary goal of the various types of protections is to conserve nature: maintain ecological integrity and natural conditions to ensure the protection of species, habitats and the ecological evolutionary process that sustains them. According to the authors, “the presence of these pressures is directly linked to constraints on and declines in biodiversity.”

A new map published with the article highlights the human footprint—combining data on built environments, intensive agriculture, pasture lands, human population density, nighttime lights, roads, railways, and navigable waterways.

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As E.O. Wilson said in a recent NY Times editorial, “To effectively manage protected habitats, we must also learn more about all the species of our planet and their interactions within ecosystems.” The Half-Earth Project is mapping the fine distribution of species across the globe to provide scientific leadership regarding the places we can manage for conservation in order to protect the greatest number of species. With this fundamental knowledge, Wilson says, “we have the opportunity to support the most biodiverse places in the world as well as the people who call these paradises home.”

Learn more about the human benefits of protected areas.

Learn more about the Half-Earth Project.