EARTH DAY: New Study Shows Many Protected Areas Don’t Benefit Wildlife

REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Kay Smythe News and Commentary Writer
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A new study found that large protected areas have little impact on biodiversity, particularly for water birds.

While international policy remains focused on increasing protected areas around the world, a new study of over 1,500 protected areas show that they have a mixed impact on water birds and that simply protecting an area does not guarantee good outcomes for biodiversity. The study is the largest ever analysis of protected areas and places “set aside” for nature, according to the BBC.

The study tracked the population trends of wetland birds to measure the success of a protected area, and found that without adequate management, protected areas do little to improve wildlife biodiversity. Researchers also compared sites before and after protection designations, finding that there wasn’t much difference in wildlife populations in protected and unprotected areas. (RELATED: ‘Megadrought’ Is Pitting Citizens And Corporations Against Each Other)

“There need to be rules in place and restoration. … We can’t just draw a line around an area and say, ‘you can’t build a car park here,'” University of Exeter Centre for Ecology and Conservation lead researcher Hannah Wauchope told the BBC.

“In the majority of places we looked, wildlife populations were still stable or were increasing, but they weren’t doing any better than in unprotected areas,” Wauchope said. “That’s disappointing, but not surprising. There seems to be this disconnect between people talking about how much land is protected and whether those areas are actually doing anything positive.”

World leaders are gathering in China in May to set the global agenda for conservation efforts throughout the next 10 years, with most nations vowing to collectively protect 30% of the Earth’s surface by 2030, according to the BBC.

Scientists suggest this won’t guarantee the preservation of biodiversity, the outlet continued. Co-author of the study Julia Jones of Bangor University told the BBC, “An obsession with reaching a certain area-based target — such as 30% by 2030 — without a focus on improving the condition of existing protected areas will achieve little.”

The study was released one day before Earth Day, which was founded on April 22, 1970 by Ira Einhorn, according to NBC News. The event has been celebrated ever since, the report continued, even after Einhorn was convicted of murdering and “composting” his girlfriend, the outlet noted. He died in 2020 while serving a life sentence without parole, the New York Times reported.