Protected areas not enough to save life on Earth

From Mongabay.com: http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0803-hance_protected_areas_wildlife.html

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
August 03, 2011

Since the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 protected areas have spread across the world. Today, over 100,000 protected areas—national parks, wildlife refuges, game reserves, marine protected areas (MPAs), wildlife sanctuaries, etc.—cover some 7.3 million square miles (19 million kilometers), mostly on land, though conservation areas in the oceans are spreading. While there are a number of reasons behind the establishment of protected areas, one of the most important is the conservation of wildlife for future generations. But now a new open access study in Marine Ecology Progress Series has found that protected areas are not enough to stem the loss of global biodiversity. Even with the volume of protected areas, many scientists say we are in the midst of a mass extinction with extinction levels jumping to 100 to 10,000 times the average rate over the past 500 million years. While protected areas are important, the study argues that society must deal with the underlying problems of human population and overconsumption if we are to have any chance of preserving life on Earth—and leaving a recognizable planet for our children.

“The global network of protected areas is a major achievement, and the pace at which it has been achieved is impressive,” says co-author Dr. Peter F. Sale, Assistant Director of the United Nations University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, in a press release. “Protected areas are very useful conservation tools, but unfortunately, the steep continuing rate of biodiversity loss signals the need to reassess our heavy reliance on this strategy.”

According to the authors focusing solely on protected areas for biodiversity preservation has a number of flaws. For one thing, society is still far from the minimum goal of conserving 30 percent of marine and terrestrial habitats in order to conserve global biodiversity. Currently 5.8 percent of land is under strict protection, while just 0.08 percent of the ocean is similarly protected. Not all protected areas are created equal. Many allow a number of destructive, unsustainable activities within their boundaries. In addition, most terrestrial protected areas (60 percent) are simply too small—less than 1 square kilometer—to save big or migrating species. Most protected areas are not well-connected in order to allow movement of animal and plant populations, especially in the face of worsening climate change.

Protected areas also do not combat all threats to species. While they help buffer species from habitat loss and overexploitation, they do little to save species from other impacts such as climate change, pollution, and invasive species.

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