New findings have shown catastrophic declines in Earth’s wilderness over the last 20 years.
Researchers reporting in the journal “Current Biology” have presented new findings that show an area twice the size of Alaska and half the size of the Amazon has disappeared from Earth’s wilderness since the 1990s. This is equal to about 10% of global wilderness.
As Dr. James Watson of the University of Queensland in Australia states, “Without any policies to protect these areas, they are falling victim to widespread development. International policy mechanisms must recognize the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas before it is too late. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around.”
Although there has been efforts to preserve the loss of specific species, there are few policies that actually deal with large-scale lose of entire ecosystems and wilderness areas that haven’t been studied heavily.
Researchers defined “wilderness” as being biologically and ecologically intact landscapes free of any significant human disturbance. After studying current areas, they then compared the current map of wilderness areas to one that was created using the same methods in the early 1990s.
The results show a total of 30.1 million km2, or 20 percent of the world’s land area, as untouched wilderness. 3.3 million km2 of wilderness area was lost since the previous map was produced 20 years ago.
The two areas that have been hardest hit are The Amazon and Central Africa. South America has experienced a 30 percent decline in wilderness and Africa has experience a 14 percent loss.
“We need to recognize that wilderness areas, which we’ve foolishly considered to be de-facto protected due to their remoteness, is actually being dramatically lost around the world. Without proactive global interventions we could lose the last jewels in nature’s crown. You cannot restore wilderness, once it is gone, and the ecological process that underpin these ecosystems are gone, and it never comes back to the state it was. The only option is to proactively protect what is left,” says Dr. Oscar Venter of the University of Northern British Columbia.
Dr. Watson says that “If we don’t act soon, there will only be tiny remnants of wilderness around the planet, and this is a disaster for conservation, for climate change and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet.”