A tenth of the world’s wild land – an area equivalent to half the vast Amazon basin – has been lost in just two decades. The researchers concluded there was a total of 30.1 million square kilometres of wilderness left, amounting to just 23 per cent of Earth’s land mass. An estimated 3.3 million square kilometres has been lost since the early 1990s, equating to a 9.6 per cent decline over that period.
At the current rate of decline there will be no significant areas of wilderness – defined as an area “mostly free of human disturbance” – left on the planet in less than 100 years, the researchers said. Mining, illegal logging, deliberately set fires to clear forest for agriculture, and oil and gas exploration were all contributing to the devastation of essentially natural environments.
The largest chunk of wilderness in the Amazon basin shrank from 1.8m sq km to 1.3m sq km, while the Ucayali moist forests in the west of the Amazon, home to more than 600 bird species and primates including emperor tamarins, was badly affected. The trajectory of loss in the world’s biggest rainforest was “particularly concerning”, the authors warned. In Africa, none of the lowland forest in the western Congo basin is now considered globally significant wilderness, the study found.
Professor Watson, of Queensland University, said, “The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening. You cannot restore wilderness. Once it is gone, the ecological process that underpin these ecosystems are gone, and it never comes back to the state it was. The only option is to proactively protect what is left.” He explains “If we don't act soon, there will only be tiny remnants of wilderness around the planet, and this is a disaster for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet. We have a duty to act for our children and their children."