James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland in Australia. He and colleagues analyzed protected land and sea regions worldwide. They published their findings in the journal Nature. [James E.M. Watson et al, The performance and potential of protected areas]
“From tiger conservation in India to gorilla conservation in Africa, elephant conservation, lion conservation, jaguar conservation, a lot of birds around the world. We could see that if a park was well protected, well managed and put in the right place, that the species inhabiting that park increase in their abundance and were far healthier in terms of their long-term future.
“What we also found was that protected areas were really important, when again well-managed, for local communities. They were actually incredibly important for sustaining ecological services for local communities. We’re talking about fiber, food, medicine. And incredibly they were important for water for not just the surrounding areas, but for cities which were nearby.
“An excellent example is the Nyungwe [Forest] National Park in Rwanda. That protected area feeds 70 percent of all the water to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. And when we look around the world, 33 of the major cities in the world, the biggest cities in the world, rely on protected areas for their water. So it’s not just for wildlife that protected areas are important, it’s for these other sustaining ecological services.”
In 2010, at the 10th Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, 193 countries agreed to the Nagoya Protocol, which included specific financial commitments to the maintenance of protected areas.
“They said that they wanted to save 17 percent of all land and 10 percent of all marine areas by 2020. But what we found was that a lot of nations in the last five years have actually backtracked away from supporting protecting areas. We saw a lot of countries backtracking in terms of their financial commitments to protected areas, but also in extreme cases we saw protected areas being opened up in terms of industry, mining and logging in particular. And therefore the very nature we’re trying to protect, the fabric of nature we’re trying to protect, were being eroded inside many protected areas.
“And what was very important was we found that this backtracking wasn’t just in Third World nations. But it was actually happening in very rich, developed nations, nations like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Britain, all had examples of backtracking on their commitments for protected area coverage and protected area maintenance.
“If you look at how much it would cost to actually meet the commitments it wasn’t that much. We found that between $40 and $80 billion a year was probably what was necessary to achieve the commitment made in 2010 in Nagoya. Now that’s a lot of money. But when you compare it to things like what we spend globally on the military, on defense forces, it’s tiny. It’s between two and three percent of what we spend on all military expenditure globally. So when you think about what protected areas provide for wildlife conservation and what protected areas provide for sustaining ecological services for local communities, this is actually a very small sum of money.
“The final thing is that we’re running out of time. It’s now 2014, about 85 percent of the Earth’s surface has been modified by humanity. There’s not much left. And so if we want to hit these incredible commitments we want to act now. If we come together in 2020 or 2030 and start thinking about where we need to place protected areas, there’s not going to be many options left on the table. There are still options now and we have to realize that we have to act now if we’re going to achieve these biological conservation targets, these targets for humanity. And if we don’t act now, we may be too late.”
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]