World’s last wilderness areas may vanish

“There is nothing to hold nations industry society or communities to account for long-term conservation

“There is nothing to hold nations industry society or communities to account for long-term conservation

Now, Watson and colleagues have published similar results on ocean habitats, finding that outside the polar areas, there are nearly no wilderness areas - and if current trends continue, they will soon be altered too.

Scientists say that one hundred years ago, only 15 percent of the Earth's surface has been used for agriculture.

Two years after scientists found that 77 per cent of land - excluding Antarctica - and 87 per cent of oceans had been modified by human intervention, researchers recently found that 70 per cent of the world's remaining untouched wilderness is in just five countries.

"It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India - a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres - was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures".

As for the ocean, the only areas that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are nearly completely confined to the polar regions, say the authors.

"Some wilderness areas are protected under national legislation, but in most nations, these areas are not formally defined, mapped or protected", Allen said.

Wilderness areas with pure water, uncontaminated fish stocks and a high abundance of game species are also important for the livelihood of the world's Indigenous people, who must be consulted, Venter said, adding governments in Brazil and Australia have high levels of involvement by Indigenous communities in their decision-making.

Said the paper's lead author James Watson of WCS and the University of Queensland: "These results are nothing short of a horror story for the planet's last wild places".

Various analyses reveal that wilderness areas provide increasingly important refuges for species that are declining in landscapes dominated by people.

Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have for the first time produced a global map that sets out which countries are responsible for nature that is devoid of heavy industrial activity. In the latest effort, they looked at the impact of human activities on ocean ecosystems.

Nearly two-thirds of marine wilderness is in the high seas, beyond nations' immediate control.

As well as being havens for biodiversity, wildernesses such as the boreal forest in northern Canada - which acts as a carbon sink and which is protected by federal law - form mankind's frontline protection against runaway climate change. "Already we have lost so much".

"We need the immediate establishment of bold wilderness targets, specifically those aimed at conserving biodiversity, avoiding risky climate change and achieving sustainable development".

It's crucial that these five nations take an active leadership role in protecting what's left of the wild areas, and all other countries step in as well, researchers add. Not only is it the most intact ecosystem on the entire planet, the authors say, but it captures and stores around a third of the Earth's terrestrial carbon.

Under UNESCO World Heritage Convention, some wilderness areas are protected as Natural World Heritage Sites.

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