Strengthening protection of existing protected areas crucial for biodiversity conservation

A group of bioscientists, including researchers from Durham University, National University of Singapore (NUS), and Princeton University, have conducted a study emphasizing the significance of reinforcing protection for existing protected areas to safeguard biodiversity. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, reveals that approximately 70% of the analyzed species, totaling around 5,000, either have no representation in protected areas, exist in downgraded or downsized protected areas, or face vulnerability to extinction due to future land-use changes.

By enhancing the protection of current protected areas and expanding park networks to cover just 1% of the world’s land area, the researchers propose that the essential habitats of 1,191 animal species at high risk of extinction can be safeguarded.

Protected areas can be susceptible to detrimental human activities if there is inadequate enforcement or insufficient political support for wildlife conservation. When protected areas undergo downgrading, downsizing, or degazettement (PADDD) events, their effectiveness in preserving species diminishes. These events occur when governments reduce the legal protections governing a park, resulting in a decrease in the level or extent of its safeguarding. Such changes can lead to habitat loss or degradation, including forest clearance for infrastructure expansion, mining, or other activities. According to the researchers, over 278 million hectares of parks have been subject to PADDD events as of 2021.

The study highlights specific examples, such as the critically endangered Megophrys damrei frog found exclusively in Cambodia. Despite its protected habitat, this species continues to face habitat degradation and loss within the boundaries of national parks and their surrounding areas.

Expanding the protected area network would also benefit species currently lacking sufficient protection for their habitats. The researchers identified that safeguarding an additional 330 square kilometers of natural landscapes in Indonesia would protect the suitable habitats of 53 species that currently lack coverage by protected areas and have limited habitat area.

Dr. Rebecca Senior of Durham University emphasized the need for more than just nominal designation of parks, stating that they must be strategically located, effectively managed, and enduring to ensure successful conservation. Dr. Zeng Yiwen of NUS, the lead author of the study, highlighted the importance of not only creating new protected areas but also ensuring that existing ones remain capable of preventing harmful human activity.

These findings contribute to the growing understanding of the necessity to conserve global biodiversity through the establishment of new protected areas. The recognition of this need was evident at the United Nations biodiversity conference COP15 in December 2022 when countries agreed to a target of designating 30% of the planet’s lands and seas as protected areas. The recent research underscores the importance of maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of already protected areas, known as parks, in providing a safe space for biodiversity.

Source: Durham University

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