Human intervention is causing a rapid loss of wilderness areas around the world.
According to a new study cited on sciencemag.org, the wilderness areas on Planet Earth have dwindled by 10 percent overall, but even more alarming, by as much as 30 percent on the continent of South America. The scary part is, it has just happened over a 16-year period.
Researcher James Watson, conservation biogeographer at the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, in Brisbane, Australia, and his colleagues, used satellite imagery from 1993 and 2009, to make a comparison of what they considered wilderness areas on the Earth.
To make the analysis, the team defined wilderness areas as pristine landscapes, that were almost entirely free of human disturbances, such as roads and other types of construction. The research also excluded areas covered with rock and ice, such as Antarctica, as well as the oceans and many large lakes to make their calculations.
The team identified around 30.1 million square kilometers of wilderness areas, using data from 2009, which is about 3.3 million square kilometers less than they were able to spot from the 1993 data. That was roughly an area twice the size of the state of Alaska, the largest state in the US.
Remarkably, the team was able to calculate that almost 30 percent of South America’s wilderness areas have been lost since the 1993 survey, as well as 14 percent in parts of Africa, primarily in the Congo. The researchers estimate the about 23 percent of the land area on the Earth was defined as wilderness in 2009.
Tim Newbold, a conservation biologist at University College London, said other researchers focused on deforestation, but the new study takes a slightly different view, including a broader range of landscapes.
“This is the first time that anyone has put a number on the loss,” offered Newbold.
Watson and his colleagues say one reason for the trend is due to prioritizing wilderness habitats that are endangered or threatened, but leaving remote landscapes unguarded. This leaves the wild area vulnerable to farmers seeking to homestead land areas, and miners looking for areas from which to extract the Earth’s natural resources.
Preservation of wilderness areas is important to the biodiversity in the regions, as well as protecting the environment, since loss of forested areas impact climate change across the globe.