Earth’s wilderness is vanishing, and just a handful of nations can save it


File 20181101 173911 3wtxox.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Brazil, home to the Amazon, is one of just five ‘mega-wilderness’ countries.
CIFOR, Author provided

James Allan, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Jasmine Lee, The University of Queensland, and Kendall Jones, The University of Queensland

Just 20 countries are home to 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding the high seas and Antarctica, according to our new global wilderness map, published today in Nature.

A century ago, wilderness extended over most of the planet. Today, only 23% of land – excluding Antarctica – and 13% of the ocean remains free from the harmful impacts of human activities.

More than 70% of remaining wilderness is in just five countries: Australia, Russia, Canada, the United States (Alaska), and Brazil.

The last of the wild. Remaining marine wilderness is shown in blue; terrestrial wilderness in green.
Watson et al. 2018

We argue that wilderness can still be saved. But success will depend on the steps these “mega-wilderness nations” take, or fail to take, to secure the future of Earth’s last remaining wild places.

Mega-wilderness countries.
James Allan, Author provided

Wilderness areas are vast tracts of untamed and unmodified land and sea. Regardless of where they are – from the lowland rainforests of Papua New Guinea, to the high taiga forests of Russia’s Arctic, to the vast deserts of inland Australia, to the great mixing zones of the Pacific, Antarctic and Indian Oceans – these areas are the last strongholds for endangered species, and perform vital functions such as storing carbon, and buffering us against the effects of climate change. In many wilderness areas, indigenous peoples, who are often the most politically and economically marginalised of all peoples, depend on them for their livelihoods and cultures.

Yet despite being important and highly threatened, wilderness areas and their values are completely overlooked in international environmental policy. In most countries, wilderness is not formally defined, mapped or protected. This means there is nothing to hold nations, industry, society and community to account for wilderness conservation.

Beyond boundaries

Almost two-thirds of marine wilderness is in the high seas, beyond nations’ immediate control. This effectively makes it a marine wild west, where fishing fleets have a free-for-all. There are some laws to manage high-seas fishing, but there is no legally binding agreement governing high-seas conservation, although the United Nations is currently negotiating such a treaty. Ensuring marine wilderness is off-limits to exploitation will be crucial.




Read more:
New map shows that only 13% of the oceans are still truly wild


And we cannot forget Antarctica, arguably Earth’s greatest remaining wilderness and one of the last places on the planet where vast regions have never experienced a human footfall.

Antarctica, the (almost) untouched continent.
Author provided

While Antarctica’s isolation and extreme climate have helped protect it from the degradation experienced elsewhere, climate change, human activity, pollution, and invasive species increasingly threaten the continent’s wildlife and wilderness.

Parties to the Antarctic Treaty must act on their commitments to help reduce human impacts, and we need to urgently curb global carbon emissions before it is too late to save Antarctica.




Read more:
Earth’s wildernesses are disappearing, and not enough of them are World Heritage-listed


Our maps show how little wilderness is left, and how much has been lost in the past few decades. It is hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009 a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres of terrestrial wilderness – an area larger than India – was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures. In the ocean, the only regions free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are confined to the poles or remote Pacific island nations.

Saving wilderness

Almost every nation has signed international environmental agreements that aim to end the biodiversity crisis, halt dangerous climate change, and achieve global
sustainable development goals. We believe Earth’s remaining wilderness can only be
secured if its importance is immediately recognised within these agreements.

At a summit in Egypt later this month, the 196 signatory nations to the Convention on Biological Diversity will work alongside scientists on developing a strategic plan for conservation beyond 2020. This is a unique opportunity for all nations to recognise that Earth’s wilderness are dwindling, and to mandate a global target for wilderness conservation.

A global target of retaining 100% of all remaining wilderness is achievable, although it would require stopping industrial activities like mining, logging, and fishing from expanding to new places. But committing explicitly to such a target would make it easier for governments and non-governmental organisations to leverage funding and mobilise action on the ground in nations that are still developing economically.

Similarly, the role of wilderness in guarding against climate change – such as by storing huge amounts of carbon – could also be formally documented in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which holds its annual conference in Poland next month. This would incentivise nations to make wilderness protection central to their climate strategies.

Mechanisms such as REDD+, which allows developing nations to claim compensation for conserving tropical forests they had planned to clear, could be extended to other carbon-rich wilderness areas such as intact seagrasses, and even to wildernesses in rich countries that do not receive climate aid, such as the Canadian tundra.

The Boreal/Taiga Forest holds one third of the world’s terrestrial carbon.
Keith Williams, Author provided

Nations have ample opportunities, through legislation and rewarding good behaviour, to prevent road and shipping lane expansion, and enforcing limits on large-scale developments and industrial fishing in their wilderness areas. They can also establish protected areas to slow the spread of industrial activity into wilderness.




Read more:
The moral value of wilderness


A diverse set of approaches must be embraced, and the private sector must work with governments so that industry protects, rather than harms, wilderness areas. Key to this will be lenders’ investment and performance standards, particularly for organisations such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the regional development banks.

Our planet faces not just a species extinction crisis, but also a wilderness extinction crisis. Once lost, our wild places are gone forever. This may be our last opportunity to save the last of the wild, we cannot afford to miss it.The Conversation

James Allan, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland; Jasmine Lee, PhD candidate, biodiversity conservation and climate change, The University of Queensland, and Kendall Jones, PhD candidate, Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The world’s carbon stores are going up in smoke with vanishing wilderness


James Watson, The University of Queensland; Bill Laurance, James Cook University; Brendan Mackey, Griffith University, and James Allan, The University of Queensland

The Earth’s last intact wilderness areas are shrinking dramatically. In a recently published paper we showed that the world has lost 3.3 million square kilometres of wilderness (around 10% of the total wilderness area) since 1993. Hardest hit were South America, which has experienced a 30% wilderness loss, and Africa, which has lost 14%.

These areas are the final strongholds for endangered biodiversity. They are also essential for sustaining complex ecosystem processes at a regional and planetary scale. Finally, wilderness areas are home to, and provide livelihoods for, indigenous peoples, including many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalised communities.

James Watson and James Allan explain their recent research.

But there’s another important service that many wilderness areas provide: they store vast amounts of carbon. If we’re to meet our international climate commitments, it is essential that we preserve these vital areas.

Many of the world’s biological realms now contain very low levels of wilderness.
http://www.greenfiresciene.com

Climate consequences

Large, intact ecosystems store more terrestrial carbon than disturbed and degraded ones. They are also far more resilient to disturbances such as rapid climate change and fire.

For instance, the boreal forest remains the largest ecosystem undisturbed by humans. It stores roughly a third of the world’s terrestrial carbon.

Yet this globally significant wilderness area is increasingly threatened by forestry, oil and gas exploration, human-lit fires and climate change. These collectively threaten a biome-wide depletion of its carbon stocks, considerably worsening global warming. Our research shows that more than 320,000sqkm of boreal forest has been lost in the past two decades.

Similarly, in Borneo and Sumatra in 1997, human-lit fires razed recently logged forests that housed large carbon stores. This released billions of tonnes of carbon, which some estimate was equivalent to 40% of annual global emissions from fossil fuels. We found that more than 30% of tropical forest wilderness was lost since the early 1990s, with only 270,000sqkm left on the planet.

Deforestation of Sumatra’s lowland rainforest.
Bill Laurance

How do we stop the loss?

All nations need to step up and mobilise conservation investments that can help protect vanishing wilderness areas. These efforts will vary based on the specific circumstances of different nations. But there is a clear priority everywhere to focus on halting current threats – including road expansion, destructive mining, unsustainable forestry and large-scale agriculture – and enforcing existing legal frameworks.

For example, most of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests are under an onslaught of development pressures. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is being opened up by over 50,000km of planned “development corridors” that criss-cross the continent. These will slice deep into remaining wild places.

In the Amazon, plans are being made to construct more than 300 large hydroelectric dams across the basin. Each dam will require networks of new roads for dam and powerline construction and maintenance.

In northern Australia, schemes are afoot to transform the largest savannah on Earth into a food bowl, jeopardising its extensive carbon stores and biodiversity.

We need to enforce existing regulatory frameworks aimed at protecting imperilled species and ecosystems. We also need to develop new conservation policies that provide land stewards with incentives to protect intact ecosystems. These must be implemented at a large scale.

For example, conservation interventions in and around imperilled wilderness landscapes should include creating large protected areas, establishing mega-corridors between those protected areas, and enabling indigenous communities to establish community conservation reserves.

In Sabah, Borneo, scientists from the UK’s Royal Society have been working with local government to establish networks of interlinked reserves stretching from the coast to the interior mountains. This provides a haven for wildlife that migrate seasonally to find new food sources.

Funding could also be used to establish ecosystem projects that recognise the direct and indirect economic values that intact landscapes supply. These include providing a secure source of fresh water, reducing disaster risks and storing vast quantities of carbon.

For example, in Ecuador and Costa Rica, cloud forests are being protected to provide cities below with a year-round source of clean water. In Madagascar, carbon funding is saving one of the most biodiversity-rich tropical forests on the planet, the Makira forest.

We argue for immediate, proactive action to protect the world’s remaining wilderness areas, because the alarming loss of these lands results in significant and irreversible harm for nature and humans. Protecting the world’s last wild places is a cost-effective conservation investment and the only way to ensure that some semblance of intact nature survives for the benefit of future generations.

The Conversation

James Watson, Associate professor, The University of Queensland; Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University; Brendan Mackey, Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University, and James Allan, PhD candidate, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Unique Australian wildlife risks vanishing as ecosystems suffer death by a thousand cuts


Ayesha Tulloch, Australian National University; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Jeremy Ringma, The University of Queensland; Megan Barnes, The University of Queensland, and Richard Fuller, The University of Queensland

Australia is renowned globally for its vast expanses of untouched wilderness. But for anyone who has travelled across its breadth, the myth of Australia’s pristine wilderness is quickly debunked as evidence of human impact spreads before the eye.

Most ecosystems have suffered huge losses. In a recent study, we looked at the magnitude of land clearing since European settlement. Some ecosystems have been devastated.

There are 75 major terrestrial ecosystems or vegetation communities in Australia, each of which are composed of hundreds of smaller communities of plants and animals. As you can see from the map below, many have been cleared extensively.

Much of Australia’s vegetation communities have been extensively cleared – the worst hit ecosystems occur in the south-west and east.
Ayesha Tulloch

Six of these 75 terrestrial ecosystems have lost 50% or more of their original extent which, combined, originally added to almost a million square kilometres. The worst hit are some of the mallee ecosystems in southern Australia, suffering up to 97% loss.

The temperate eucalypt woodlands of south-east Australia previously covered more than a million square kilometres. Now there are less than half that, having been cleared for agriculture and urban development.

Among these areas are some of the most biodiverse woodland communities on Earth, including the critically endangered Box-Gum Grassy Woodland, which has been reduced to less than 10% of its pre-1750 extent.

The critically endangered Box-gum Grassy Woodlands near Young in south-eastern Australia are now largely made up of small patches.
Ayesha Tulloch

The loss hasn’t been confined to trees. Temperate grasslands have lost 80%. Even the open woodland habitats across the north – which have a fraction of the people of the east and are considered the last great savannah wilderness on Earth – have lost 20-30% of their extent largely as a result of pastoral activities.

First cleared, then cut to pieces

But that’s not the worst of it.

As well as the declines in the extent of almost every vegetated ecosystem in Australia, most ecosystems are increasingly fragmented. That is, the ecosystem occurs in smaller and smaller patches surrounded by agriculture, urbanisation, and corridors such as roads and railways.

Many Australian vegetation communities now occur in small patches. Startlingly, one in five Australian vegetation communities have more than half of their remaining extent in patches smaller than 10 square kilometres. This has serious consequences for the species inhabiting these systems.

Most ecosystems in Australia (such as this temperate eucalypt woodland near Gundagai) have been fragmented through clearing from large, adjoining patches of vegetation into thousands more smaller patches.
Ayesha Tulloch

The brigalow forests and woodlands of Queensland contain the only remaining populations of a number of unique species, including the endemic Retro Slider, Brigalow Scaly-foot and Golden-tailed Gecko. Brigalow previously covered almost 100,000 square kilometres of inland Queensland – bigger than Tasmania.

Brigalow has been affected by the double jeopardy of high loss (87%) and high fragmentation. Two-thirds of its remaining extent is in patches smaller than 50 square kilometres.

The Golden-tailed Gecko is a habitat specialist dependent on Brigalow that has been extensively cleared and fragmented.
Jeremy Ringma

In the far north, the Mahogany Glider, one of Australia’s most threatened tree-dwelling mammals, is dependent on lowland tropical rainforest for its survival.

Lowland rainforest is highly vulnerable to loss of small patches – half of its remaining extent consists of patches smaller than 15 square kilometres. The continuous erosion of small patches of rainforest will certainly lead to the extinction of the Mahogany Glider, as well as declines in and extinctions of many other species surviving in small patches around Australia.

Time for new way of thinking

Current environmental policy means we continue to degrade nature at a rapid pace. Clearing of remnant vegetation in Queensland alone nearly doubled from 520 square kilometres in 2012-13 to 950 square kilometres in 2013-14, and nearly quadrupled since 2009-10. The Queensland Labor government has vowed to reform land clearing laws that contributed to this increase.

Patches smaller than five hectares can be routinely cleared without permits. Small patches such as these are mostly ignored by conservation activities, and instead, policies in fragmented landscapes largely focus on keeping remaining large patches intact. This will not be enough to save some ecosystems.

Well over 1,100 square kilometres of remnant vegetation patches have been approved for clearing for High Value Agriculture in Queensland. On a single property in the north, almost 580 square kilometres was recently cleared to make way for high-value agriculture such as sorghum and soy beans.

Patches smaller than 50 square kilometres comprise up to half of the remaining extent of many of the vegetation communities around Australia and are still being cleared. White areas represent no remaining vegetation
Ayesha Tulloch

These cleared ecosystems contained vulnerable and endangered birds such as the Red Goshawk. Satellite analysis has detected unexplained, possibly illegal, broadscale clearing of small vegetation patches in many parts of Queensland that are still mapped as regulated remnant. Much of this clearing is occurring in places where we identified high vulnerability to loss of small patches, such as the tropical rainforests in the far northeast of Australia.

The Red Goshawk is a habitat specialist and Australia’s rarest bird of prey. Land clearing in northern and eastern Australia is a major threat to the species.
James Watson

Policies urgently need to change at state and federal levels. We need to stop the clearing of vegetation communities and fragments. For example, the arbitrary five hectare threshold for land clearing in Queensland needs to be re-evaluated. These thresholds should instead be tailored to each ecosystem.

Globally we need to stop thinking only about the total amount of vegetation loss and consider size and number of remaining fragments. This will be crucial for assessing the health of ecosystems and protecting remnants.

Since most remaining vegetation is on private land, landholders will need incentives to retain small patches, and developers will need a way of choosing between two patches to ensure economic growth and resource consumption needs can still be met.

The long-term consequences of policy inaction is the slow, inevitable decline of remaining vegetation communities, and further loss of the species dependent on them: a death by a thousand cuts.

The Conversation

Ayesha Tulloch, Research Fellow, Australian National University; James Watson, Associate professor, The University of Queensland; Jeremy Ringma, PhD Candidate, Conservation Biology, The University of Queensland; Megan Barnes, PhD Student in Conservation Science, The University of Queensland, and Richard Fuller, Associate professor, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Know Right Now: Inside the Mystery of Greenland’s Vanishing Lakes


TIME

[newsletter-the-brief]

Two lakes in Greenland holding enormous amounts of water were drained within the course of weeks, researchers say.

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more about these vanishing lakes.

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Northern Ireland: Loughareema the Vanishing Lake


The link below is to an article concerning the vanishing lake of Northern Ireland – Loughareema.

For more visit:
http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/loughareema-the-vanishing-lake-of-northern-ireland.html

Monarch Butterflies: Missing in Action


The link below is to an article that reports on the vanishing Monarch Butterfly.

For more visit:
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/where-have-all-the-monarch-butterflies-gone