Doing More for Protected Lands and Oceans

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Photograph: Owen Humphrey’s/PA

Almost fifteen percent of the Earth’s land is enclosed in national parks or other protected areas, which accounts for approximately 20 million sq km. This figure is close to an internationally agreed goal to protect 17 percent of the land surface by 2020. Comparatively, ocean conservation only accounts for 4 percent of total surface of the ocean, covering 15 million sq km. In spite of these statistics – which reflect a positive outcome of the increased attention and importance given to land and ocean conservation – there are concerns over how well these areas are managed and whether they effectively protect endangered species, as Seth wrote a few days ago.

progress report by the UN Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warns that some of the most biodiverse ecosystems are not being protected and that the management of many protected areas is deficient.

Less than 20% of areas considered crucial hubs for species are fully protected, the report states, with countries routinely failing to assess the effectiveness of their national parks nor provide wildlife corridors that allow animals to roam between protected areas.

Restricting hunting, mining and other development helps species’ overall survival chances, with the report stating that global populations of terrestrial species in protected areas suffered an average decline of 18% from 1970 to 2010, compared to a 39% loss for species when unprotected areas are included.

“Ecological factors such as park size, fragmentation and connectivity are fundamentally important in the long term, but are often superseded by short-term social and economic factors,” the report, presented at the IUCN congress in Hawaii, found.

“Protected areas can have positive impacts on species extinction risk and population trends, but they need to be properly sited and managed to realize their full potential.”

Erik Solheim, head of UN environment, said that “huge gains” have been made in the quantity of protected areas, but this had to be matched by their quality.

“The world needs to do more to effectively protect our most biologically diverse spaces,” he said. “Protected areas need to be better connected, to allow populations of animals and plants to mix and spread. Also important is ensuring local communities are involved in protection efforts. Their support is fundamental to long-term conservation.”

Continue reading on The Guardian here.

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