One-third of the world’s protected areas are threatened by ‘intense’ human pressure

Creative Commons: Abigail Keenan

One-third of the world’s protected areas are threatened by ‘intense’ human pressure

In 1992, a global shift in conservation efforts took place when the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was ratified at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As of 2016, nearly 200 nations have agreed to set aside lands to protect their biodiversity, or variety of life within them, from the pressures of human activity. However, these areas are not adequately protected against human-caused declines in biodiversity.

Today, more than 202,000 spaces are designated within the CBD, accounting for nearly 15% of the world’s land. But a new study published in Science has found that many of these areas are under intense human pressure from activities such as road building, farming, agriculture, and processes like urbanization and infrastructure development.

Researchers analyzed a global map that combines data on built environments, intensive agriculture, pasturelands, human population density, nighttime lights, roads, railways, and navigable waterways. The results show that human activities are prevalent in protected areas, with only forty two percent of it free of any measurable human pressure. As a global average, one-third of protected lands are under intense human pressure, and 57% of protected areas are made up entirely of land under intense human pressure.

Since the 1992 convention, the number of areas set aside for preservation of biodiversity have increased, but governments aren’t doing enough to ensure that these lands are adequately guarded from damaging human activity. Protected lands are increasingly threatened by farming, mining, logging, building, and light pollution.

Specific threats noted in the study include a Ukrainian city bustling in the middle of Podolskie Tovtry National Park; agriculture and buildings that have infringed upon Dadohaehaesang National Park in South Korea and major roads fragmenting Mikumi National Park in Tanzania.

Yet, the study authors are careful to note the importance of protected areas, stating that they are the primary defense against biodiversity loss. The results of the study do not mean that protected areas should be abolished or defunded. Rather, the research shows that nations need to combine protection efforts with better management practices to ensure that conservation goals can be more thoroughly achieved. In addition, as nations continue to expand their protected areas, there is clearly an urgent need for comprehensive analysis and objective assessments studying the efficacy of conservation efforts. 

Maintaining the ecological integrity and natural condition of our protected areas is essential to ensure the protection of species, habitats, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that sustain them.