Handful of states hold fate of world’s vanishing wilderness

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A new study on the planet's last remaining marine wildernesses finds similar results to what was observed on land: the world's last wild areas are disappearing, and fast.

Owing to huge global population and increasing human activities, the world's remaining wilderness areas - regions where the lands are in their natural state - are rapidly disappearing, with explicit worldwide conservation targets critically needed, new research says.

The global team mapped intact ocean ecosystems, complementing another project charting remaining terrestrial wilderness. "Today, more than 77% of land - excluding Antarctica - and 87% of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities".

More of the oceans have been affected by human industry - including oil exploration, shipping and commercial fishing - than have the world's land mass, the study found. (3,861 sq. mi.). The survey excludes Antarctica and the open seas, but the authors note that marine regions "free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are nearly completely confined to the polar regions". At present, many protected areas in the world not officially defined, unmapped and not protected at the legislative level.

"Wilderness areas provide important refuges for species that are declining in landscapes dominated by people", the report said.

Astonishingly, 94 percent of that space is confined to 20 countries, while the top five (Russia, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Brazil - in that order) possess 70 percent of the world's remaining wilderness. But success will depend on the steps these "mega-wilderness nations" take, or fail to take, to secure the future of Earth's last remaining wild places. In the latest effort, they looked at the impact of human activities on ocean ecosystems. This means there is nothing to hold nations, industry, society and community to account for wilderness conservation.

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While Antarctica's isolation and extreme climate have helped protect it from the degradation experienced elsewhere, climate change, human activity, pollution, and invasive species increasingly threaten the continent's wildlife and wilderness. "Already we have lost so much".

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

The recently published study comes ahead of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November for the protection of biodiversity beyond 2020.

Venter said those countries have a role to play in preserving wilderness, including the boreal forest of Canada, which could be impacted by climate change according to the Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg.

"One take on the list is that alarm bells go off", said Watson.

Moreover, these spots often act as the world's lungs, storing carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Researchers urges authorities to better conserve these wilderness areas. Particularly, global accountability is necessary, he argues.

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