As the world faces cascading extinctions and rampant climate change, a growing body of scientific research has revealed that we should set aside more areas as protected spaces.
This message was hammered home by a study published in June in the National Acts of the Academy of Sciences it says current protected areas won’t stop the extinction crisis – because we haven’t set aside nearly enough land yet.
“Our analysis shows that many of the world’s mammals are unlikely to be sufficiently protected from extinction by the current global network of protected areas,” the study authors warned.
Globally, we have protected nearly 17% of our land and 7% of the ocean, but support is growing to protect 30% of the land and ocean by 2030 – the amount that many Scientists believe that we must set aside to protect biodiversity and the climate. The Biden administration has announced broad support for the policy, known as 30×30, along with about 100 other countries. In December, it could officially be part of the Global Biodiversity Framework to be negotiated in Montreal under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
Can the fate of mammals help build the support needed for 30×30? Researchers examined nearly 4,000 species of land and non-flying mammals living in protected areas and found that many of these areas were too small or poorly connected for the animals to thrive.
Protected areas are critically important for conservation if well managed and can help protect against habitat loss and other human disturbance. In many areas, they may be the only places that can support the survival of certain species, the researchers found.
“It is plausible that the long-term survival of much of Earth’s biodiversity will ultimately depend on the network of protected areas that are established and functioning properly in the near future,” they wrote.
The PNAS A study has found that current protected areas alone are not enough to ensure the long-term survival of around half of all mammals studied – between 1,700 and 2,500 species. This includes 91% of those already listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. These endangered species vary in size from the largest land animals, such as elephants, to the tiny Sri Lankan shrew.
The researchers also estimated that more than 1,000 additional mammal species that are not currently listed as threatened may also be at risk. This includes white rhinos, American bison, jungle cats, several species of howler monkeys, and hundreds of species of small rodents and insectivores.
The highest proportion of underprotected species was highest in the most biodiverse areas, including South, Southeast, and East Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; Africa; and Oceania.
A better strategy
So if current protected areas are not doing enough, how can we do better?
Research suggests that we first need to increase the size and number of protected areas and improve the connectivity between them.
But that’s not all: they also need to be in the right places and managed with a clear understanding of the animals’ habitat needs.
“This finding supports previous calls for the strategic expansion of protected areas into specific ecosystems that require additional protection, rather than relying on arbitrary area-based targets,” they wrote.
Researchers warn that simply aiming for a percentage of land and water protected is not the best way to ensure species survival. In other words, reaching 30×30 will not be successful if it is not placed in the right places or managed appropriately with adequate staff and budgets.
Another recent study, published in Nature, echoes this conclusion. Researchers looked at how 1,500 protected areas affected 27,000 waterbird populations in 68 countries and found that simply designating a protected area will not necessarily bring benefits to people.
As in the mammals article, the researchers found that areas actively managed for waterbirds – for example by removing invasive species, restoring wetlands or preventing hunting – were more successful, and often those that were larger also had better results.
“Halting biodiversity loss requires improvements in the performance of existing protected areas and measures to address pervasive threats beyond the boundaries of the area,” the researchers concluded. “The ever-increasing targets by area must be accompanied by equally ambitious targets that guarantee the effectiveness of protected areas.”
The oceans too
When it comes to protecting the animals that live in the ocean, we have a long way to go. While only 7% of the ocean is protected, less than 3% of it has strong safeguards.
But a study published this month in Nature developed a framework on how to establish marine protected areas in places that can help ensure biodiversity protection, increase fish populations that support food security, and help secure marine carbon stocks that are threatened by bottom trawling and other industrial activities.
The researchers found that most of the top 10% of priority locations for establishing marine protected areas are within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones managed by coastal nations. These areas “host irreplaceable biodiversity and are often heavily impacted by human activities which can be mitigated by marine protected areas”.
Their findings also show that marine protected areas can help restore populations that have been overfished and, in the long term, can support food security even if fishing does not take place in protected areas.
It is also better if the nations do not go it alone. “We find that a globally coordinated effort could achieve 90% of the maximum possible biodiversity benefit with less than half the ocean surface from a protection strategy based solely on national priorities,” the report revealed. ‘study.
The good news is that if we do it right, we can not only protect biodiversity, but also achieve other important benefits. These findings come from another recent study, published in the journal Scientists progress.
One such benefit is climate change mitigation. According to the study, protecting 30% of the land could provide a third of the reductions needed to limit global warming emissions to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Water quality and aquatic biodiversity would also be improved, according to the study, as more protected areas would reduce nutrient pollution that seeps from fertilizer waste and threatens the health of watersheds.
“If species conservation is a priority, greater biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and nutrient regulation benefits can be realized,” said the Science authors wrote. “This confirms previous findings on the multiple co-benefits of conservation and reflects the importance of biodiversity for the provision of multiple ecosystem services.”
Of course, this job will not be easy.
“The expansion or relocation of the world’s protected areas comes with very real risks to human well-being,” wrote the PNAS the study’s lead author, David Williams, professor of sustainability and the environment at the University of Leeds. “These zones are based on preventing people from doing things: cutting down trees, hunting certain species, mining or farming.”
But understanding and communicating the multiple benefits of increasing protected areas, he said, can help engender greater support from government and local communities.
Williams and others insisted that creating more protected areas should not come at the expense of indigenous communities, many of whom have already been disenfranchised or displaced by past conservation efforts.
The non-profit organization Project Expedite Justice calls for including Indigenous peoples at the center of conservation efforts with equal decision-making power. As a report by the organization notes, “protected areas with strong involvement of indigenous peoples in management and decision-making have been shown to yield better results in terms of conservation and protection of human rights. man “.
We will also need to take action to address the root causes that are driving extinction and climate change, or we will have no more land to conserve.
“Without rapid changes to healthier, plant-rich diets, reductions in food waste, and sustainable yield increases, there simply won’t be enough open land to protect,” Williams wrote.