You don’t have to look far to see the effect humans are having on the biodiversity of our planet. Through a combination of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and catastrophic waste disposal, we are entering the planet’s sixth mass extinction. Volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts are well-known initiators of such extinction events, but for Earth’s sixth, humans are solely to blame. In fact, a study in Science Advances has revealed that the 20th century species extinction rate was roughly 100 times greater than it would have been without any human interference.
The oceans’ biodiversity also cannot escape the hugely detrimental effect that humans are having on the planet, so it should come as welcome news that a new marine reserve off the coast of Chile – which will be the largest in the Americas – has just been created. As reported in National Geographic, the Chilean government has declared that they will protect an aquatic area the size of Italy hundreds of miles from its coast.
This new reserve will join two recent endeavors by the United States and the United Kingdom. Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a memorandum designed to expand a vast marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean. As reported by BBC News, the Pacific Remote Islands Area – containing seven islands, atolls and reefs full of species unique to the region – will increase to cover an area three times the size of the state of California.
Earlier this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a comparably sized marine reserve around the isolated Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific will be marked for special protection, as reported by National Geographic.
In what will be called the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, the Pac-Man-shaped area will protect the unique and diverse tropical and temperate species contained within the region. The new marine protected area (MPA) is a relatively intact ecosystem; the new protective measures will permit ecologists and marine biologists to observe how a marine community operates without any human interference.
Fishing will still be allowed in the unprotected wedge-shaped gap within the new protected area. Effectively, scientists will be able to compare the effect of fishing within this gap to the protected areas in the new MPA, directly assessing the effect human activity has on the marine life in the region.
Together with the aforementioned Pacific MPAs, over 2.3 million square kilometers (roughly 900,000 square miles) of the Pacific Ocean will be guarded from human interference.
Unfortunately, that value has a depressing mirror: Between 2000 and 2012, the world’s forest cover decreased by 2.3 million square kilometers. So there’s a lot of work left to do in protecting the biodiversity of the planet, including both the oceans and the forests.