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Saturday, July 6, 2024 | Back issues
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Environmentalists pinpoint key conservation areas to prevent another mass extinction event

Researchers suggest that protecting only 1.2% of the planet's surface could prevent a significant extinction crisis, at what they say could be a very low global economic cost.

(CN) — Protecting biodiversity in even just a tiny percentage of the Earth's surface could prevent thousands of species from extinction, a group of conservationists and researchers say in a study published Tuesday that offers what they say is an affordable and attainable solution for the increasing climate-related threats to life on Earth.

Researchers identified in the study published in Frontiers in Science critical areas that should be preserved to prevent a massive drop off in diversity of life on Earth. They outline a plan to prevent this kind of mass extinction event by safeguarding only 1.2% of Earth's surface.

"Most species on Earth are rare, meaning that they have very narrow ranges or occur at very low densities, or both. We found that we need only about 1.2% of the Earth's surface to head off the sixth great extinction," Eric Dinerstein of the NGO Resolve and the lead author of the study said in a statement, referring to five historical intervals where a large percentage of the planet's species were wiped out, like the extinction of the dinosaurs.

According to conservationists, from 2018 to 2023, an additional 463,000 square miles of land throughout the world were protected. However, only 42,000 square miles of this land protected range-limited and threatened species.

Using six layers of global biodiversity data, scientists mapped the entire world to find the most critical unprotected areas.

These areas— which researchers dubbed "conservation imperatives"— provide a clear plan for targeted conservation efforts, researchers say. By combining this data with maps of current protected areas and satellite images, researchers identified where rare and threatened species still have habitats. These 16,825 areas have the potential to prevent all predicted extinctions if properly protected.

According to the researchers, even just focusing conservation efforts on tropical regions could significantly mitigate most extinctions.

"These sites are home to over 4,700 threatened species in some of the world's most biodiverse yet threatened ecosystems," said Andy Lee, a co-author of the study in a statement. "These include mammals and birds like the tamaraw in the Philippines and the Celebes crested macaque in Indonesia, as well as range-restricted amphibians and rare plants.”

The researchers indicate that forests, serving as carbon sinks, play a crucial role in preserving biodiversity in combating climate change and that protecting carbon-rich and wildlife-rich forested areas benefits both species and humans alike.

To estimate the cost of protecting these areas, the researchers modeled expenses based on data from hundreds of land protection projects over 14 years. They concluded that the estimated cost for safeguarding conservation imperatives in the tropics is approximately $34 billion annually over the next five years.

This sum represents less than 0.2% of the United States' GDP and less than 9% of global fossil fuel subsidies.

“Protecting these areas is financially feasible," Lee said. "It's a fraction of the revenue generated from industries like mining and agroforestry each year."

According to Dinerstein, safeguarding conservation imperatives is only the beginning. Effective conservation efforts must also confront challenges such as poaching and habitat degradation.

“A healthy, vibrant Earth is critical for us to pass on,” Dinerstein said in a statement. “We've got to get going—we need to head off the extinction crisis. Conservation imperatives drive us to do that."

Categories / Environment, Science

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