The world’s last pristine wilderness areas are rapidly disappearing in the face of human development, according to University of Queensland-led research.
The University of Queensland’s (UQ) School of Earth and Environmental Sciences formed part of the international team that recently mapped intact ocean ecosystems, which complemented a previous 2016 project which charted remaining terrestrial wilderness.
“A century ago, only 15 per cent of the Earth’s surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock,” UQ’s Professor James Watson said.
“Today, more than 77 per cent of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87 per cent of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities.
“It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India — a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres — was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures.
“And in the ocean, the only regions that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions.”
The researchers insist that global policy needs to be translated into local action.
“One obvious intervention these nations can prioritise is establishing protected areas in ways that would slow the impacts of industrial activity on the larger landscape or seascape,” Professor Watson said.
“But we must also stop industrial development to protect indigenous livelihoods, create mechanisms that enable the private sector to protect wilderness, and push the expansion of regional fisheries management organisations.