Public Release: 

One-third of world's 'protected' areas under intense human pressure

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Globally, one-third of protected land is under intense human pressure from processes including road building, grazing, and urbanization, according to a new study. The results suggest that protected areas, created to stem the loss of biodiversity, are not as well guarded as once thought, a reality check for nations striving to meet commitments on biodiversity loss under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), by creating protected lands. The last global assessment of the impacts of human activity within protected areas was in 1992, a time since which the global extent of protected areas has roughly doubled in size. Notably, however, the assessment in 1992 did not account for the presence of roads and navigable waterways, among other manmade elements. Here, Kendall R. Jones and colleagues sought to more thoroughly assess the current state of protected areas. They analyzed a global map that combines data on built environments, intensive agriculture, pasture lands, human population density, nighttime lights, roads, railways, and navigable waterways. They report that, as a global average, 33% of protected land is under intense human pressure, while 42% of it free of any measurable human pressure. In terms of designated pockets of protected land (as opposed to the global average), only 10% of lands were completely free of human activity, but most of these regions are in remote areas of high-latitude nations, such as Russia and Canada. Interestingly, protected areas designated after 1993 have a lower level of intense human pressure within their borders than those previously designated; the authors suggest that this may indicate that more recently designated areas were targeted as protected spaces because they were recognized as being under low human pressure. The authors found no relationship between the degree of human pressure and a number of conservation categories, (i.e., natural monument area, habitat/species management area). They also suggest that some protected areas could be better categorized to restrict human activity.

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