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Experts Warn Global Changes Threaten World’s Protected Areas

Submitted by: World Resources Institute

Categories: Environment

Posted: Aug 19, 2003 – 12:00 AM EST


Aug. 19 /CSRwire/ - WASHINGTON, DC -- Experts today warned that global changes such as climate change, growing population, and invasive alien species are threatening the unprecedented gains made in establishing parks and protected areas worldwide which today cover nearly 13 percent of the world's land area.

Since the establishment of Yellowstone as the world's first national park in 1872, there are now 102,101 protected areas covering 18.8 million square kilometers. The total protected areas have more than doubled in the last ten years. This is larger than Canada, the United States, and Germany combined.

"Many of these protected areas are the last strongholds of nature, and now global changes driven by humans are battering their doors," said Dr. Kenton Miller, vice president for conservation of the World Resources Institute (WRI) and chair of the IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). "We must find ways to adapt to these changes to ensure the long-term sustainability of our parks and protected areas."

The warning was issued in advance of the Fifth World Parks Congress, organized by the IUCN-The World Conservation Union and the WCPA in Durban, South Africa, Sept. 8-17. The congress, held once every ten years, is the premier gathering of the world's experts on protected areas. Some 2,500 experts from more than 170 countries will attend.

"Some of the world's rarest species are dependent on protected areas", said Jonathan Lash, WRI president. "As threats are increasing to almost every ecosystem, the critical resources humanity has sought to protect in these areas are at risk."

In the past, protected areas managers had to contend only with such traditional problems as lack of legislation establishing protected areas, problems of land tenure, and lack of financing. Frequently, however, their efforts have been reactive - responding to the crises of the moment with little thought to long-term concerns that may threaten their very existence.

Today, they have to contend with such global changes as the impact of climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation by roads, rising sea levels, growing human populations, invasive alien species of plants and animals, changing tastes and preferences of people, and decentralization of political control.

"These problems are coming right behind us and can easily overwhelm the problems of the past," said John Waugh, acting director of the US office of IUCN-The World Conservation Union. "Protected areas and parks are at the heart of the ecosystems we need to sustain life on earth."

Statistics from the report World Resources 2001-2002: People and Ecosystems indicate an overwhelming human dependence on rapidly deteriorating ecosystems, the systems that support all life on earth. One out of every six humans depends on fish for protein needs, yet 75 percent of the world's fisheries are over-fished or fished at their biological limit. Nearly forty-one of every 100 people live in water-stressed river basins. Some 350 million people are directly dependent on forests for their survival, with global forest cover declining by 46 percent since pre-agricultural times.

While protected areas were initially established for recreation and wildlife conservation, they have now become places of high social and economic value and are often the cornerstones of regional and national development strategies. Protected areas support livelihoods, protect the supply of fresh water , harbor an untold wealth of genetic diversity, support a burgeoning industry in recreation and tourism, and enhance fisheries in surrounding waters. They also protect cultural monuments and sites of high spiritual value to indigenous peoples.

However, not all crucial ecosystems are adequately included in protected areas. A WRI study of the world's watersheds, for example, reveals that less than five percent of their land area is included within designated protected areas. This includes much of the Amazon, the Congo, and almost all the basins in India, China, Southeast Asia, and Papua New Guinea.

Other studies indicate that from one-fourth to one-third of the world's largest cities take some or all of their drinking water from catchments within protected forests. This includes Bogota, Johannesburg, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro.

The World Resources Institute ( is an environmental think tank that goes beyond research to create practical ways to protect the Earth and improve people's lives.

For more information, please contact:

Adlai Amor World Resources Institute
Phone: 202-729-7736


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