Ten Percent of Earth’s Wilderness Vanished over Last Two Decades

Trees in a dimly-lit jungle

A study found that humanity has somehow managed to wipe out 10 percent of Earth’s wilderness in just 23 years. In other words, our planet lost a wilderness area twice the size of Alaska between 1993 and 2016.

The good news is the phenomenon isn’t irreversible. Apparently, we still have time to undo changes and save the remaining wilderness. Researchers hope their findings will convince authorities and population alike to make that change.

Areas with the Largest Wilderness Losses

According to the study’s background information, wilderness accounts for 23 percent of our planet’s land area. The study revealed that the richest regions in wilderness are North America (especially the very northern parts of Canada), Australia, and the northern parts of Africa and Asia.

South America, which once topped that list, has seen the largest losses in recent years. Deforestations wiped out 30 percent of the continent’s wilderness in just 20 years. Africa is next in line with a 14 percent loss.

Co-author of the study Oscar Venter mentioned tropical rain forests and mangrove systems among the world’s most fragile ecosystems. Venter explained that wilderness disappeared at an alarming pace in the Amazon basin.

Since these ecosystems nurture a lot of the planet’s wildlife, the problem may have unexpected implications. For instance, mangrove forests are home to many fish species, which reach maturity there. If the fish vanish so are the fisheries which rely on them.

Venter added that there’s almost zero wilderness in the mangroves today. His team believes that the major culprits are governments and policy makers around the world.

Need for Action

Lead author of the research James Watson warned that current environmental policies “completely ignore” the preservation of wilderness areas. Watson explained that these areas are crucial for endangered species conservation and economically-challenged local communities. What’s more, wilderness is essential in climate regulation all around the world.

Watson is a researcher at University of Queensland, Australia, and an active member of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

A silver lining of the study is that 80 percent of what’s left of the wilderness consists in large swaths of land. This helps endangered species stay safe and provides a safe haven for many other animals out there.

We have 1-2 Decades Left

Watson and his team now urge international policy makers to set in place some measures to preserve the existing wilderness “before it is too late.” Researchers estimate humanity has one to two more decades before it can no longer turn things around.

Venter said in a recent interview that activists could do their part and pressure policymakers within their reach into taking action. Additionally, “grassroots movements” can be extremely powerful in raising awareness on the issue.

For example, Brazilian conservationists rallied against deforestation between 2005 and 2014, and deforestation rates dropped by 70 percent.

In a recent interview, Venter urged communities to speak to their local officials about the importance of wilderness preservation. But the arguments need to be realistic enough for regulators to be able to translate them into actual policies, Venter believes.

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