It's not just a case of protecting beautiful places or vulnerable species, marine protected areas can be a lifeline to fishers, will help establish food security and support the replenishment of dwindling and poorly managed fish-stocks.
Barcelona, Spain (Vocus) October 6, 2008
Today, scientists attending the World Conservation Congress released a new book, The World's Protected Areas, which captures the input of more than 100 experts from around the world on one of the most potent tools available for nature conservation: protected areas.
"Protecting nature's special places is something that lies close to the hearts of millions of people the world over. Their benefits are immense, for biodiversity and for people," said Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy and one of the lead editors and contributing authors of The World's Protected Areas. "Amidst the doom and gloom of the many very real problems facing the planet, it's great to step back and see what we've achieved."
The book examines the relationship between people and protected areas, investigates threats and opportunities, cites the history of protected areas, provides expert conservation advice and celebrates the success of protected areas around the world.
With more than 114,000 sites, protected areas cover 19 million km², equivalent to 12.9 percent of the Earth's land surface. This is a larger area than all of the world's croplands combined and 18 times larger than the combined area of the world's urban landscapes. Protected areas have been established in every country and territory on earth as a means to protect nature as well as the species and livelihoods that rely on a particular ecosystem. Protected areas also safeguard water supplies, prevent erosion, replenish fish-stocks, offer places of solace and recreation, and store a treasure-trove of genetic diversity for future pharmaceuticals and crops.
Patterns and gaps
"The progress we have made in protecting areas on land is certainly heartening," says Jon Hutton, Director of the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, which co-ordinated the work. "Yet the book also carries strong messages of caution. Many habitats, thousands of species, even entire biomes are largely absent from the world's protected areas networks, and for some of these time is running out."
The World's Protected Areas also draws particular attention to the world's oceans, because less than 1 percent of our seas are effectively protected,
"Bringing protected areas up to scale in all of the world's oceans is a top priority," Spalding added. "It's not just a case of protecting beautiful places or vulnerable species, marine protected areas can be a lifeline to fishers, will help establish food security and support the replenishment of dwindling and poorly managed fish-stocks."
Freshwater systems are also a source of concern. Although large areas of wetlands, lakes and rivers appear to be incorporated within existing protected areas, they remain vulnerable to external influences such as dams, irrigation and pollution, which are degrading rivers and lakes around the world.
Other ecosystems singled out for concern include tropical dry forests, temperate grasslands, cold deserts and semi-deserts, and Mediterranean systems.
Yet the authors point out that even "protected" areas are not free from danger. The book considers the catalogue of threats that are impacting our protected areas, from mismanagement to alien species invasions. As is so often the case, climate change is also likely to have a massive impact on these habitats.
Spalding noted that increasing temperatures, alongside wetter or drier or more extreme conditions, will fundamentally alter the living conditions in every place on the planet. He added that in isolation, individual protected areas start to look very vulnerable, especially as climate change takes "normal" growing conditions to other places. As experts identify in the book, there is no simple solution, but they conclude that it is critical to identify and protect more resilient places, and to design networks of protected areas, allowing species to move freely across wider landscapes and perhaps even considering interventions such as translocations and introductions of species as the impacts start to take hold.
Into the Future
The final section of The World's Protected Areas takes a tour around the world, through the eyes of regional experts. History, culture, traditions, politics and economics have led to a great variety of systems and approaches, but protected areas are now firmly established everywhere. They have become one of the most extensive land-use allocations on the planet, but they are still increasing.
The benefits of protected areas - to economies, cultures, and traditions, to livelihoods, human health and of course to biodiversity - are unequivocal. Under commitments made through the Convention on Biological Diversity, all nations have committed to do more and to close gaps in the network and to ensure a more secure future for life on earth.
Notes to Editors
The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) provides objective, scientifically rigorous products and services that include ecosystem assessments, support for implementation of environmental agreements, regional and global biodiversity information, research on threats and impacts, and development of future scenarios for the living world. http://www.unep-wcmc.org.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres (7 million hectares or 70,000km2) in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres (47 million hectares or 470,000km2) in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at http://www.nature.org.
At 352 pages, The World's Protected Areas: status, values and prospects in the 21st century contains 110 colour illustrations, 165 line illustrations and 39 colour maps
8-1/2 x 11", cloth 978-0-520-24660-7 $54.95sc/£32.95
Available from University of California Press,
Tel + 510-642-4562 website: http://www.ucpress.edu
Contact: Misty Herrin, The Nature Conservancy, firstname.lastname@example.org, +32 487 319 682