Protected areas are aimed at preserving the rapidly declining resources and diversity of the planet. They can be found across countries and presently cover about 15% of the land area. A new study set out to understand how effective these are, and found that protected areas reduced deforestation by 72% on the whole.
The research focused on the satellite data of forest cover to study protected areas in 81 countries, established between the years 2000 and 2012. This translated to 3.2 million sq. km of land. They aimed to study the effectiveness of protected areas and the scale of deforestation that would occur in their absence.
“Protected areas are a key conservation tool that are essential for stemming the tide of biodiversity and habitat loss across the Earth,” said first author, Dr. Payal Shah, a research scientist at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, and one of the authors of this study. “The aim was to try and understand how much deforestation would have occurred in an alternative scenario – if an area had not been placed under protection.”
It was found that an area of about 34,000 sq. km, roughly the size of Belgium, within the protected areas was lost to deforestation. However, it would have been 86,062 sq. km more without the PA measures. The study also concluded that if each country had a protected area implemented as successfully as their most successful regional neighbour, the loss would have been reduced by 33,020 sq. km.
Guatemala, Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand, South Africa, Cambodia, and Latvia were the best performers in their respective continents. Implementation of protected area laws and regulations played an important role in defining the effectiveness of these areas. Strict implementation of protected area regulations led to better results.
The study also found that higher economic growth of a country indicated higher protected areas effectiveness levels. On the other hand, higher levels of agricultural activity led to lower levels of protected areas effectiveness, especially when paired with increasing rural populations and lower governance qualities.
The authors of this study, which was published in the Environmental Research Letters, highlight the need for a further look into protected areas per country to better understand these associations.
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