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10% of Wilderness Lost in Two Decades

One-tenth of all global wilderness – an area twice the size of Alaska – has vanished since the 1990s, according to research led by Dr James Watson of The University of Queensland. The Amazon and Central Africa have been hardest hit.

The researchers mapped biologically and ecologically intact landscapes free of any significant human disturbance around the globe. They then compared their current map of the wilderness to one produced by the same means in the early 1990s.

Their updated map, published in Current Biology, shows that 30 million km2 – equivalent to 23% of the world’s land area – still survives as wilderness, with the majority being located in North America, North Asia, North Africa and Australia.

However, an estimated 3.3 million km2 of wilderness area was destroyed in the past 20 years. Losses have been greatest in South America, which suffered a 30% loss of its wilderness, and Africa, which experienced a 14% loss.

“The amount of wilderness lost in just two decades is both staggering and saddening,” said research team member Prof William Laurance of James Cook University. “International policies are urgently needed to maintain surviving wilderness before it’s too late. We probably have just one or two decades to turn this crisis around.”

Laurance said the United Nations and other international bodies have ignored globally significant wilderness areas in key multilateral environmental agreements, and that has to change. “Despite being strongholds for imperiled biodiversity, regulating local climates and sustaining many indigenous communities, wilderness areas are vanishing before our eyes,” he said.

“Once a wilderness is lost, it almost never comes back. The only option is to proactively protect the wilderness we have left.”