One-third of the world's protected areas - created to stem the loss of biodiversity - is under intense human pressure from processes including road building, grazing, and urbanisation, a study has found.
The results suggest these areas are not as well guarded as once thought, a reality check for nations striving to meet commitments on biodiversity loss under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), by creating protected lands.
The last global assessment of the impacts of human activity within protected areas was in 1992, a time since which the global extent of protected areas has roughly doubled in size.
However, the assessment in 1992 did not account for the presence of roads and navigable waterways, among other manmade elements.
In a new study by researchers from University of Queensland in Australia sought to more thoroughly assess the current state of protected areas.
They analysed a global map that combines data on built environments, intensive agriculture, pasture lands, human population density, nighttime lights, roads, railways, and navigable waterways.
They report that, as a global average, 33 per cent of protected land is under intense human pressure, while 42 per cent of it free of any measurable human pressure.
In terms of designated pockets of protected land, only 10 per cent of lands were completely free of human activity, but most of these regions are in remote areas of high-latitude nations, such as Russia and Canada.
Protected areas designated after 1993 have a lower level of intense human pressure within their borders than those previously designated.
Researchers suggest that this may indicate that more recently designated areas were targeted as protected spaces because they were recognised as being under low human pressure.
Scientists found no relationship between the degree of human pressure and a number of conservation categories. They also suggest that some protected areas could be better categorised to restrict human activity.
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