Intense human pressure is linked to the decline of biological diversity. Despite apparent global efforts, a third of the world's protected lands are degradedby deterioration orby effect ofanthropic action
Since the world's first protected area was created 146 years ago, nations around the world have created more than 200,000 terrestrial nature reserves. Together they cover more than 20 million km², or almost 15% of the planet's land area, a larger area than South America. The goal is to reach 17% coverage by 2020.
Governments establish protected areas so that plants and animals can live without human pressure that would otherwise lead to extinction. These are special places, gifts for future generations and all non-human life on the planet.
Protected areas are the core of the conservation strategy, as they are the most effective areas for protecting natural ecosystems and their complement of biodiversity and ecosystem services. When properly managed (through rational enforcement, monitoring, clear boundaries) and properly funded, protected areas are effective in reducing the loss of natural habitat and preserving wildlife populations.
Era of massive loss of biodiversity
Some 3.7 million square kilometers of protected areas worldwide, an area equivalent to the total area of our country, are under intense human pressure due to road construction, intensive agriculture and urbanization, among others. A new study points out that this is one of the main reasons for the catastrophic decline in biodiversity.
But over the past decades, James Watson and a team of researchers, from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland in Australia, have been able to see first-hand how logging, mining, agriculture, roads and urbanization, among others have diminished these areas. And the situation does not seem to improve if the 2020 goals are to be achieved.
The study, published in the journal Science on May 18, 2018, reveals that 3.7 million square kilometers of protected areas, that is, 32.8%, are highly degraded by human pressure, while another 42% are not. seems to have human activities that are harmful. Only 10% are completely free of threat, but they are remote areas in Russia, Canada and a very southern part of the Argentine and Chilean Patagonia.
“Once significant human activities occur within an area, any habitat that endangered species depend on is destroyed. These activities also allow invasive species to easily enter the system, causing terrible side effects to the species we are trying to save, ”emphasizes Watson. Protected areas in Asia, Europe and Africa were the hardest hit by being in places with massive human populations.
A danger to biodiversity
To perform this work, the authors used the recently updated human footprint map that maps eight pressures.in situ at 1 km resolution on earth, including urban centers, intensive agriculture, deforestation, grazing land, human population density, night lights, roads, railways and waterways. "We determined a degradation threshold using this map, which allowed the global evaluation of the protected areas," they point out.
According to the work, protected areas designated after 1993 have less pressure than those established before. Scientists suggest that one of the reasons the areas became protected more recently is that they had low human pressure.
Additionally, 111 nations now believe they have met their obligations to the Convention on Biological Diversity based on the extent of their protected area, the authors say. “But if you only count land in protected areas that is not degraded, 77 of these nations don't meet the standard. And it is a low limit ”, denounces the researcher.
The study shows that governments are overestimating the space available for nature within protected areas. States claim that these places are protected for the sake of nature when in fact they are not. According to the authors, it is one of the main reasons why biodiversity is still in catastrophic decline, despite the fact that more and more land is “protected”.
But it is not all bad news. Areas with stricter conservation policies seem to be doing a good job, even when there is a high human density. “A well-managed network of protected areas is essential to save species. If we allow it to degrade, there is no doubt that biodiversity losses will be exacerbated, ”concludes Kendall Jones of the University of Queensland.
The results suggest that protected areas, such as national parks, designated wilderness areas, and habitat rehabilitation areas created to halt the loss of biodiversity, are not as well protected as previously thought.
We need to recognize that simply declaring a protected area is only the first step that nations must take. Helping protected areas succeed requires a more sustained and dedicated effort.
It is time for the global conservation community to stand up and hold governments to account to take conservation seriously. This means conducting a full, frank and honest assessment of the true condition of our protected areas.
Source: UQ / AAPN
Prof. Norberto Ovando
President / Friends of National Parks Association - AAPN -
Expert World Commission on Protected Areas - WCPA -
International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN-