World's last wilderness may vanish

October 31, 2018, University of Queensland
Torres Del Paine, Chile. Credit: Gregoire Dubois

The world's last wilderness areas are rapidly disappearing, with explicit international conservation targets critically needed, according to University of Queensland-led research.

The international team recently mapped intact ocean ecosystems, complementing a 2016 project charting remaining terrestrial wilderness.

Professor James Watson, from UQ's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the two studies provided the first full global picture of how little wilderness remains, and he was alarmed at the results.

"A century ago, only 15 per cent of the Earth's surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock," he said.

"Today, more than 77 per cent of land—excluding Antarctica—and 87 per cent of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities.

"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.

"And in the ocean, the only regions that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions."

UQ Postdoctoral Research Fellow James R. Allan said the world's remaining wilderness could only be protected if its importance was recognised in international policy.

The Amazon rainforest. Credit: University of Queensland
"Some are protected under national legislation, but in most nations, these areas are not formally defined, mapped or protected," he said.

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

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

The researchers insist that global policy needs to be translated into local action.

"One obvious intervention these nations can prioritise is establishing in ways that would slow the impacts of industrial activity on the larger landscape or seascape," Professor Watson said.

Whale. Credit: Christopher Michel
"But we must also stop industrial development to protect indigenous livelihoods, create mechanisms that enable the private sector to protect wilderness, and push the expansion of regional fisheries management organisations.

"We have lost so much already, so we must grasp this opportunity to secure the last remaining before it disappears forever."

The article has been published in Nature.

Explore further: First mapping of global marine wilderness shows just how little remains

More information: Protect the last of the wild, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/d41586-018-07183-6

Related Stories

Bolder targets needed to protect nature for people's sake

June 18, 2018

University of Queensland (UQ) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researchers argue that the world needs more diverse, ambitious and area-specific targets for retaining important natural systems to safeguard humanity. ...

Recommended for you

Nanoscale Lamb wave-driven motors in nonliquid environments

March 19, 2019

Light driven movement is challenging in nonliquid environments as micro-sized objects can experience strong dry adhesion to contact surfaces and resist movement. In a recent study, Jinsheng Lu and co-workers at the College ...

OSIRIS-REx reveals asteroid Bennu has big surprises

March 19, 2019

A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid's surface. Bennu also revealed itself ...

The powerful meteor that no one saw (except satellites)

March 19, 2019

At precisely 11:48 am on December 18, 2018, a large space rock heading straight for Earth at a speed of 19 miles per second exploded into a vast ball of fire as it entered the atmosphere, 15.9 miles above the Bering Sea.

Levitating objects with light

March 19, 2019

Researchers at Caltech have designed a way to levitate and propel objects using only light, by creating specific nanoscale patterning on the objects' surfaces.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.6 / 5 (13) Nov 01, 2018
Scientists have been saying this for the last 50 plus years and never happened. Please find a better way to get research or grant monies rather than alarmist propaganda. Don't get me wrong I believe in being good stewards to this planet but when you "Chicken Little" too much it is going to start falling on deaf ears.
1 / 5 (12) Nov 01, 2018
What you seeing are the results of Communist/Socialist Governments.
1 / 5 (11) Nov 01, 2018
"lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures" --- That's how they see it.
1 / 5 (12) Nov 01, 2018
Considering the population has more than tripled in that time.... I think we'll be okay.
King Ghidora
1.3 / 5 (13) Nov 01, 2018
When I see the "global warming" red flag I instantly think PROPAGANDA. If you want to be taken seriously drop the BS. You have zero proof that man causes climate change. The lies told on that subject discredit science almost completely. It isn't science, it's politics and it's radical politics at that. Go peddle your bilge elsewhere commie.
1 / 5 (12) Nov 01, 2018
Utter leftist hysterical fear mongering. Pure endangered species excrement.
1 / 5 (11) Nov 01, 2018
There are more trees in the eastern US now due to farmland not used for farming anymore. The education system in this country sucks.
1 / 5 (12) Nov 01, 2018
How dare we use land to feed people. Gosh I remember not long ago that we were worried about food deserts where people could not find food to eat. And we had to subsidize that with our taxes. Think it is related? Create a problem and then tac the people to fix it.
1 / 5 (12) Nov 01, 2018
There are vast sections of the Congo in Africa where no man has set foot. Maybe there are natives in there but we have no way of knowing. There are large unexplored areas of the US north west, central Asia. These dimwhit grant seakers are using the false effects of global warming to say that all areas are effected by man. Just another attempt to line their pockets and justify their own existance.
1.7 / 5 (12) Nov 01, 2018
Humans are 100% natural.
4.1 / 5 (14) Nov 01, 2018
There are more trees in the eastern US now due to farmland not used for farming anymore. The education system in this country sucks.

It's cute how you think former farmland is the same thing as wilderness.
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 01, 2018
How did we get beset upon by irrational Deniers?
4.6 / 5 (10) Nov 01, 2018
Most of the folks above either created these accounts just to comment on this article, or are astroturfing wankers.
4.6 / 5 (10) Nov 02, 2018
Someone's bot-net in high gear tonight
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 02, 2018
Wow, I really didn't realize how botty things were anymore. I looked at all those accounts, and they all have just 1 post, here, and now, to say some repub BS about how it's fine to destroy the world. Except one has a 2nd post where he says something hateful about Muslims too. Wow.
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 02, 2018
Nine added to my ignore list..... interesting how so many can actually enjoy something as filthy as fecal regurgitation.

Back to the article.... this is a human population issue. Simply far too many of us. Disease (don't eliminate psychosis from the list of possibilities) will most likely be the mechanism that thins us out. Unless we are quite lucky, that thinning may not be survivable in the long run.

The first casualty will be civilization - we are already entering that danger zone. The most obvious sign is the emergence of leaders who are not leaders. That is underway, and not just in the USA.

The USA may pull back from that precipice - but overall humanity is bending towards chaos.

No, I am not a survivalist, and I actually am an optimist. There are many things we can do to turn from the path. Buy an EV. Use renewable energy. Lead by example. Do not stand by silently and watch other humans descend into ignorance.
Mike Johnson
1.3 / 5 (3) Nov 02, 2018
You know, I think that having animals in the wilderness is a terrible idea.
2 / 5 (4) Nov 02, 2018
Scientists have been saying this for the last 50 plus years and never happened. Please find a better way to get research or grant monies rather than alarmist propaganda. Don't get me wrong I believe in being good stewards to this planet but when you "Chicken Little" too much it is going to start falling on deaf ears.

It already has. I once supported Greenpeace, but when they started lying, I turned my back on them and most of the other 'Chicken Little's". As Trumps always say's, "So Sad" (:
1 / 5 (1) Nov 03, 2018
Sam, after you learn how to use the apostrophe, . . wise up.
not rated yet Nov 05, 2018
Impact equals Population times Affluence times Technology
1 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2018
Great ideas. Stop all Industrial Development and plunge the world into poverty. The Mantra of the Globalist Environmentalist. Let's just exterminate the entire human Population.....except of course those wonderful ''Environmentalists''....we'll leave them here to save the world. Let's see...God told man to increase and multiply and conquer the earth and its creatures. We've pretty much killed God off and the New religion is the Earth.....let's see, the first men worshiped the Sun and the Earth.........see how far we've come. Right back to where we started lead by the Elites...the same people that have been trying to subjugate the world forever.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.