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Rethinking National Parks (and other protected areas)

Rethinking National Parks (and other protected areas)

Harvour seals Did you know that we humans have a direct effect (I am generous and avoid the word “damage”) on 83% of the Earth’s surface? In the ocean, it is even worse and reached 100% (41% strongly affected). Although biodiversity contributes to human well-being in many ways, quantified in trillions of dollars, our appropriation of the planet has a perverse impact. The number of endangered species is enormous and, the critical point is that still grows.

The overall strategy followed to correct the tendency is to create protected areas (national parks and others). This paradigm is based on the premise that a larger number of protected areas reduce mortality and consequently is associated with the recovery of species. Currently, between 10% and 15% of the planet’s surface is protected under some form of conservation program. Despite all current efforts, the number of endangered species is growing. Clearly there is something wrong. Is it possible that 15% is not a sufficient protected area?

Ibis coming back at night

In 2004, the World Parks Congress recommended protecting 30% of the planet’s surface, and others advised up to 50% surface. However, it is difficult to think that we will meet much higher protected percentages. It is likely that the world population will stabilize naturally (some say around the 12 billion people), but we are still too far from that. Much earlier, the human population (and economic activities) will have a conflict with the protection need. To illustrate that, you just need to look at the map of the world, and you will notice that most of the protected areas are located in regions with a limited population. It is clear that human population and environmental conservation are inversely proportional.

Coma de vaca

Increasing the extension of protected areas will not be an easy job. We must rethink the model of conservation. It is important to optimize the conservation efforts to get the most out of them because it is not clear how far we will be able to protect. We should think about the preservation in an integrated and coordinated manner. Habitats are connected, and consequently, our human activity should allow such connectivity. Some projects are already taking place. For example, in a total of 83 islands (all small islands) cats have been eradicated (and worth to mention, not always in the best way). Islands are small spots with high biodiversity. Cats are exotic animals in these islands causing the extinction of 14% of vertebrates (see the article on hummingbirds). That’s a given, but we need much more.


Recomended reading:

Mora and Sale, Mar Ecol Prog Ser, 2011. doi: 10.3354/meps09214 – Open Access

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