Protected areas top 100,000

Posted: 16 September 2003

Real progress is being made towards conserving the world's most spectacular habitats and wildlife, according to a report released at the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa, in September. More than 100,000 protected areas, some 90 per cent of which have been listed over the past 40 years, have been established across the planet.

Between 10 and 30 per cent of some of the planet's vital natural features such as the Amazonian rainforests, the Arctic tundra and the tropical savannah grasslands are now held in these protected areas.

However, progress towards conserving other biologically and ecologically important landscapes is proving more sluggish, says the report, issued jointly by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Less than 10 per cent of the world's large lakes are protected, and temperate grasslands typical of Central Asia and the North American prairies, are similarly poorly protected.

Marine dangers

The rate at which the planet's marine world is gaining protection causes even greater concern. Less than 0.5 per cent of the world's seas and oceans are within protected areas.

This is despite the importance of fisheries and habitats such as coral reefs as sources of protein and employment for billions of people across the world.

Indeed, the findings suggest that big efforts will be needed to achieve a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012, a key agreement made at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.

These are just some of the findings from the 2003 United Nations List of Protected Areas, compiled by UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in Cambridge, in collaboration with IUCN and its Commission on Protected Areas.

It lists World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and other protected areas ranging from the vast Greenland National Park, which at over 97 million hectares is the planet's biggest, to thousands of relatively small sites, many in private hands.

Mushrooming growth

A first draft of a related publication entitled State of the World's Protected Areas, shows that much of the growth has occurred in the last half of the 20th Century.

Between 1872, when Yellowstone National Park was established in the United States, and the early 1960s, some 10,000 protected areas were created. The total now stands at over 100,000.

Commenting on the report and the challenges ahead, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: "The global environment movement and the United Nations can be justifiably proud of the growth in protected areas. Since 1962, the year of the first World Parks Congress, the number of such sites has really mushroomed, rising from an area of some two million square kilometres to over 18 million square kilometres today...

"We need to continue the good work on the land and tackle the big gaps at sea. We also need to work out how to extend the good management and local, national and regional benefits arising from protected areas to the wider world.

"Put simply, we cannot pat ourselves on the backs if we end up with islands of well-protected wildlife, habitats and ecosystems in a sea of environmental degradation."

The 2003 United List of Protected Areas is available from the IUCN Publications Services Unit, 219c Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, United Kingdom, CB3 0DL or from IUCN bookstore