Aires protégées

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Protected areas: are they enough to offset biodiversity decline?

Heightened awareness of the loss of biodiversity worldwide has led to widespread implementation of protected areas, which can now be found in almost all countries. The Convention on Biological Diversity, which entered into force in December 1993, arose from this international concern. Its stated purpose is to significantly reduce biodiversity decline by 2010.

As an environmental indicator, protected areas are defined as managed tracts of national territory, land or water, set aside with a view to preserving biodiversity by restricting or prohibiting human activity or settlement. They may take several legal forms: national parks, reserves managed by State or private entities, etc. The environmental indicator does not take into account these different forms or the size of the protected area, even though effective species conservation can not be ensured in overly small reserves.

according to UNEP, the number of protected areas reached 100,000 in 2003, covering 12% of the world’s land area and 0.5% of its oceans. The countries with the highest percentage of protected land are Venezuela, Ecuador (with the Galapagos Islands marine reserve), and Denmark with the Greenland National Park, the world’s largest reserve. Two huge marine reserves protect the coral reefs (Australia and Hawaii), yet these measures are doubtless insufficient to protect these particularly endangered ecosystems.

Of those countries with the smallest percentage of protected areas (under 1%), many are islands or poor or politically unstable countries such as Somalia, Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Lesotho, Iraq, Uruguay and Ireland. One of the major obstacles to the required expansion of protected areas is the lack of resources is developing countries.


The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a protected area as “an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means”.

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