Tenth of the world’s wilderness lost since 1990s: study

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Melbourne | Published: September 9, 2016 12:59:10 PM

A staggering 3.3 million square kilometres - almost 10 per cent - of the the global wilderness has been lost since the 1990s, with Amazon and Central Africa being the hardest hit, a new study has found.

"International policy mechanisms must recognise the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas before it is too late. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around," said Watson, who is also associated the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. (Reuters)?International policy mechanisms must recognise the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas before it is too late. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around,? said Watson, who is also associated the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. (Reuters)

A staggering 3.3 million square kilometres – almost 10 per cent – of the the global wilderness has been lost since the 1990s, with Amazon and Central Africa being the hardest hit, a new study has found.

The study showed catastrophic declines in wilderness over the last 20 years.

“Globally important wilderness areas – despite being strongholds for endangered biodiversity, for buffering and regulating local climates, and for supporting many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalised communities – are completely ignored in environmental policy,” said James Watson of University of Queensland in Australia.

“International policy mechanisms must recognise the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas before it is too late. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around,” said Watson, who is also associated the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.

Watson said much policy attention has been paid to the loss of species, but comparatively little was known about larger-scale losses of entire ecosystems.

To fill that gap in the new study, the researchers mapped wilderness areas around the globe, with “wilderness” being defined as biologically and ecologically intact landscapes free of any significant human disturbance.

The researchers then compared their current map of wilderness to one produced by the same means in the early 1990s.

Their updated map shows that a total of 30.1 million square kilometres (more than 20 per cent of the world’s land area) now remains as wilderness, with the majority being located in North America, North Asia, North Africa, and the Australian continent.

However, comparisons between the two maps show that an estimated 3.3 million square kilometres (almost 10 per cent) of wilderness area has been lost in the intervening years.

Those losses have occurred primarily in South America, which has experienced a 30 per cent wilderness loss, and Africa, which has experienced a 14 per cent loss.

“The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening,” Watson said.

“If we don’t act soon, it will be all gone, and this is a disaster for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet,” he said.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

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