Today only 15 percent of land and 7 percent of our ocean are protected.
We’re on track to reach a global goal of protecting 17 percent of land and 10 percent of the ocean by 2020, but world leaders need to dramatically boost ambition if we are to protect our natural world and the people and wildlife that depend on it. Nature provides critical resources that sustain life on Earth — from the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat to its ability to counteract the damaging impacts of climate change.
We know that in protected areas, life comes back.
wolves in yellowstone
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after being locally extinct there for 70 years, ecosystems rebounded. After decades without wolves as a predator, grazing elk in the region had degraded landscapes, reducing the coverage of plants and small trees. With the reintroduction of wolves, elk changed their behavior, avoiding places where they faced threats from the wolves and allowing habitats for birds, otters, and aquatic life to bounce back.
Akagera National Park
After years of destruction from war, land conversion and poaching, life in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park is once again thriving. Akagera is one of the oldest national parks in Africa, and is one of only a handful of places on Earth where the “Big Five” (leopards, lions, Cape buffalo, elephants, and rhinoceros) can be found. But war turned the park into a battlefield and in 1997, the new government reduced the park by two thirds to accommodate resettlement of ethnic Tutsi and their 700,000 cattle. Wildlife, accustomed to roaming outside the newly-set boundaries, were hunted or poisoned. The park’s wildlife began to disappear; lions were gone by 2002 and the last black rhino was seen in 2007. But starting in 2009, the people of Rwanda made a commitment to rehabilitate the Akagera and began reintroducing wildlife. Now the populations of lions, rhinos and other wildlife are rebounding and the park is once again home to the “Big Five.”
Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic.