State of world’s protected areas

11 September 2003

South Africa has welcomed the publication of a United Nations report on the state of protected areas around the world, saying the document is an important source of information for the conservation community and government agencies.

Addressing media after the release of the report on Tuesday, environmental affairs and tourism director-general Chippy Olver said the report showed that good progress was being made towards conserving the world’s most spectacular habitats and wildlife.

The report was released at the World Parks Congress currently under way at the International Convention Centre in Durban.

More than 100 000 protected areas, including a number in South Africa, are listed in the report, which was compiled by the UN Environmental Programme’s (UNEP’s) World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, in collaboration with the World Conservation Union and the World Commission on Protected Areas.

The listed areas include World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and conservation areas ranging from the vast Greenland National Park, which at 97 million hectares is the largest in the world, to thousands of sites smaller than 10 square kilometres.

The report shows that progress in other fields has been much slower, with less than 10% of the world’s lakes currently protected. The world’s marine areas fare even worse, with only 0.5% enjoying protection, a situation described by the UNEP as “disturbing” in view of the importance of fisheries as a source of protein and a job creator for millions of people.

World Conservation Union chief executive Achim Steiner said that bigger efforts were needed to achieve a representative network of marine-protected areas by 2012, the target date set last year at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer said, however, that the UN and the global environment movement should be proud of the progress made in the growth in protected areas.

“Since 1962, the year of the first World Parks Congress, the number of such sites has really mushroomed, increasing from an area of some two million square kilometres to over 18 million square kilometres today”, Toepfer said.

Source: BuaNews