New Study Indicates Increasing Loss Of Worldwide Biodiversity

A new study has found that the worldwide diversity of species is rapidly declining. The study, published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, noted that despite protected areas on land and in the sea designated to protect species, biodiversity is actually decreasing.

Since the 1960s, over 100,000 protected areas, encompassing approximately 7 million square miles of land and 1 million square miles in the ocean, have been designated. The global funds provided to set up protected areas are estimated at $6 billion. Despite the efforts to promote biodiversity, the study notes that designating protective areas as a conservation area is insufficient to prevent the extinction of species.

The authors of the study, Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii and Peter F. Sale of the United Nations University’s International Network on Water, Health, and Environment, note that human actions are responsible for the increasingly lack of biodiversity. The study estimates that “approximately 40 percent of terrestrial net primary productivity and 35% of that produced on the ocean shelf are now appropriated by humans;” furthermore, the study posits that “globally, human activities affect ~83% of the land and 100% of the ocean, with ~41% being strongly affected.”

Due to the increasing amount of negative human impact on the environment, the world’s species are suffering as a result. The authors of the study estimate that the benefits biodiversity provides to humankind is valued somewhere around several trillion dollars annually. In order to preserve and promote biodiversity, changes need to be made to the protected areas.

The amount of land that should be designated as protected areas has been disputed. The study notes that from a political standpoint, the Convention on Biological Diversity recommends 10% of the world’s ecosystems be inside protected areas, whereas the 2003 World Parks Congress recommends 30% instead. From an ecological standpoint, the amount of land that should be protected extends to 50%. If the current rate of land protection continues, the study estimates that the 10% target could be reached by 2043, a 30% target by 2197, and a 50% target by 2351. As far as protecting the ocean, the study provides several figures: a 10% target that could be reached by 2067, a 30% target that could be reached by 2092, and a 50% target that could be reached by 2105.

The authors of the study point out that the projections of land protection are optimistic due to the strain on biodiversity caused by humans. The ocean is suffering due to overfishing and carbon emissions; the study notes that “demand on marine fisheries is projected to increase by 43% by 2030 to supply ongoing food demands, while projected CO2 emissions are expected to severely impact >80% of the world’s coral reefs and affect marine fish communities globally, causing local extinctions and resulting in changes in species composition of up to 60%. The study also points out that the effect is not much better on land due to the increasing human population; the “demand for housing, food, and energy are expected to substantially increase the intensity of stressors associated with the conversion of land cover to agriculture and urbanization.”

The study notes that there are many causes of the loss of biodiversity and that not every problem can be cured with the solution of a protected area. As a solution to the problem of loss of biodiversity, the authors of the study suggest a “concerted global effort to stabilize human population growth, reduce consumption and increase the Earth’s biocapacity,” which would in turn “offer the clearest path under which humanity could achieve sustainability on Earth before 2050.”

If genuine efforts are made to promote sustainability, the efforts “should provide definitive solutions to reverse ongoing biodiversity loss triggered by the expansion and increasing intensity of human stressors.” By recognizing that human presence is ultimately the biggest threat to biodiversity, the study urges that the biggest issue- overcrowding- be addressed. Not only will a stabilization of the earth’s population promote biodiversity, it will also ensure that the demand for housing, food, and other basic necessities can be met.

The full text of the study can be found here.

Photo Credit: oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/07twilightzone/background/plan/media/caribbean_biodiversity_600.jpg

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