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Protected regions now cover an area five times the size of the United States

Photo Credit: National Geographic
While the expansion in area is a positive development, the latest Protected Planet Report highlights that much needs to be done to ensure enforcement of conservation laws and practices
by TR Pakistan

A surge in the creation of marine and terrestrial nature reserves has brought humankind closer to its goal of creating protected nature refuges on 17 percent of the world’s land and 10 percent of oceans by 2020, according to the UN’s Protected Planet Report 2018.

Collectively, protected regions now cover over 49 million square kilometers — an area five times the size of the United States. The report also categorizes countries in terms of the percentage of areas placed under protection. It places Pakistan among countries where protected areas are 10 to 17 percent of the landmass. However, the report also highlights that the expansion of protected areas is offset by poor enforcement. Furthermore, some reserves offer nothing of value in terms of conservation.

Read more: Time to act against biodiversity loss is running out, warns UN biodiversity chief

Most of the growth of protected regions has been in marine regions. The most notable amongst these is the two million square kilometer Ross Sea Reserve, a fifth of which falls in the Antarctic. This zone is collectively managed by New Zealand and the United States.

Protected areas have also begun to cover a wider range of ecosystems. Once again, the most significant progress in this regard has been made in marine areas. However, the protection of offshore oceans and freshwater ecosystem is lagging behind.

According to the report, effective management of protected areas leads to significantly improved ecodiversity outcomes. However, only 20 percent of the protected area has been assessed for management effectiveness according to the Global Database on Protected Areas Management Effectiveness.

The report recommends increasing connectivity between protected areas, saying this is key to maintaining the viability of species populations and biodiversity. Metrics to measure connectivity at the global level have been developed and reveal that about half of the global protected area network is connected. The report also stresses that the integration of protected areas into the wider landscape requires sound spatial planning.

The WWF had warned in its latest Living Planet Report that the populations of mammals, birds, reptiles. amphibians and fish have shrunk by 60 percent since 1970, and termed the phenomenon a mass extinction event. According to the report, currently only 25 percent of the world remains untouched by human activity.

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