Protected Wildlife Areas Alone Won't Stop Continued Biodiversity Loss - Far Bigger Changes Are Needed

tiger photo

photo: Hans Splinter/CC BY-ND 2.0

Continuing to simply set aside land and ocean as protected areas for wildlife won't stem the rapid biodiversity losses resulting from increasing human population and natural resource consumption. That's the sobering conclusion of a new study in Marine Ecology Progress Series.Though protected marine and land areas have grown significantly and "protected areas are very useful conservation tools," report co-author Peter Sale of the UN University's Institute for Water, Environment, and Health says, "the steep continuing rate of biodiversity loss signals the need to reasses our heavy reliance on this strategy" (Science Daily).

As for why protected areas alone aren't working as well as hoped, the report cites several factors:

  1. Growth in protected areas is too slow: At current rates of growth it'll take 185 years for land and 80 years for oceans to put 30% of ecosystems under protected states--the minimum need to conserve biodiversity at current levels.
  2. Size and connectivity of protected areas is not great enough: Small, disconnected reserves (which 60% of land and 30% of ocean reserves are) don't really work to support viable breeding populations of animals.
  3. Protected areas may help with over-exploitation of animals and preserving habitat, but are less effective in dealing with other human-caused threats such as climate change, pollution, and invasive species.
  4. Managing existing protected areas, let alone increasing them, is woefully underfunded. Currently $24 billion annually is needed, but just $6 billion is spent.
  5. Increasing human population and resource consumption means setting aside 30% of ecosystems as protected areas will bring this goal into potential conflict with human development goals.

In that last point sits the solution, to me, supported by the others.

As I wrote a year ago, human population growth, increasing natural resource consumption and biodiversity loss and fully tangled together, and it's only possible to disentangle them through intellectual abstraction. Any practical solution has to address all three, though in different balances depending on location and the current state of all three factors there.

Central to that in the so-called developed nations of the world is some serous soul searching on the meaning of the word 'enough'.

What is enough development? What is enough stuff? What is enough resource consumption? Where are appropriate boundaries drawn for these things?--defined not solely by egotisitcal desire, individual choice, and current consumerist-driven notions of need, but rather locally, regionally, and globally based ecological limits.

These are the crucial questions in so-called emerging economies too, though at least in some of these places, unlike in the rich nations of the world, these limits are still out in front of them, and not passed decades ago.

Ultimately these limits have to come from within, be self-awarely self-imposed, to be effective.

More on Biodiversity
Connecting the Dots: Population Growth, Consumerism & Biodiversity Loss Tangled Together
People Provide Missing Piece in Biodiversity Puzzle

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