Legal protection of the world’s conservation areas are being progressively chipped away by governments catering to corporate interests, a new study by an international research consortium has found.
The study, published in Science earlier last week, details how governments from 73 countries, including Australia, has removed over 500,000 km2 from protected areas, and downgraded a further 1.65 million km2 to allow for ‘greater human impacts’.
The research examined losses occurring over a 125 year period. Alarmingly, more than three quarters of these losses have occurred since 2000.
Dr Carly Cook, an ARC DECRA Fellow at Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences, led the assessment of changes to Australian protected areas. She identified more than 1,500 changes, resulting in the removal of 13,000 km2 from conservation areas and undermining protection for an additional 400,000 km2.
“The losses we see in Australia reflect a shift towards the commercialisation and exploitation of conservation areas for human uses,” Dr Cook said.
“We’ve seen governments across the country open up protected areas to commercial developments, such as hotels and marinas, and introduce a string of changes to permit forestry, livestock grazing, hunting and fishing”.
“People think protected areas offer permanent protection for biodiversity, but this isn’t the case.
“The future for protected areas is increasingly uncertain at a time when natural systems face greater threats than ever.”
The study authors call for international conventions to establish systems to monitor and report on the loss of conservation areas that match current systems for tracking their establishment.