HONOLULU—Continuing international reliance on a strategy of setting aside land and marine territories as “protected areas” is insufficient to stem global biodiversity loss, according to a comprehensive assessment published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Authors of the research paper are Dr. Camilo Mora of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Geography Department, and Dr. Peter F. Sale of the United Nations University’s Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment, and Health.
“Biodiversity is humanity’s life-support system, delivering everything from food, to clean water and air, to recreation and tourism, to novel chemicals that drive our advanced civilization,” Mora said. “Yet there is an increasingly well-documented global trend in biodiversity loss, triggered by a host of human activities.”
The authors based their study on existing literature and global data on human threats and biodiversity loss. They found that, despite impressively rapid growth of protected land and marine areas worldwide—today totaling over 100,000 in number and covering 17 million square kilometers of land and 2 million square kilometers of oceans—biodiversity is in steep decline.
Expected scenarios of human population growth and consumption levels indicate that cumulative human demands will impose an unsustainable toll on the Earth’s ecological resources and services, accelerating the rate at which biodiversity is being lost.
Current and future human requirements will also exacerbate the challenge of effectively implementing protected areas while suggesting that effective biodiversity conservation requires new approaches that address underlying causes of biodiversity loss, including the growth of both human population and resource consumption.
“Ongoing biodiversity loss and its consequences for humanity’s welfare are of great concern and have prompted strong calls for expanding the use of protected areas as a remedy,” Sale said. “While many protected areas have helped preserve some species at local scales, promotion of this strategy as a global solution to biodiversity loss, and the advocacy of protection for specific proportions of habitats, have occurred without adequate assessment of their potential effectiveness in achieving the goal.”
Mora and Sale warn that long-term failure of the protected areas strategy could erode public and political support for biodiversity conservation and that the disproportionate allocation of available resources and human capital into this strategy precludes the development of more effective approaches.