Human beings have become increasingly urban creatures. The natural habitat for us has become the city. Large urban environments concentrate a high density of population.
With moving to the cities, we have lost our connection to the natural wild. But the wilderness is an important resource for the planet. And on the planet we all rely. So even if we only see the wild in National Geographic documentaries it’s still important to care.
Even more so, because we have less and less wilderness on the planet by the decade. Ten percent of the wilderness disappeared from the ’90s and until today.
Scientists and researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society wanted to know just how much of the wild is gone. They wanted to accurately determine the loss to the planet’s wilderness. So they looked at satellite images and survey data that has been recorded since the 1990s.
In the last two decades, approximately 10 percent of what we call wilderness has disappeared. The wilderness is typically called a biological and ecological landscape that is free of any kind of human disturbance.
The definition of wilderness says that landscapes do not stop being wild just because humans have settled there. As such it is entirely possible for humans to live in harmony with a given ecosystem.
The wilderness disappears when human activity has an impact on the ecosystem and changes it permanently. Deforestation, land conversion and large infrastructure projects like bridges and highways all lead to a loss of wilderness. More space for human activity. And less space for the wild.
In percentages, 10 percent of the wilderness might not mean much. But in figures it is 1.2 million square miles that have disappeared. That is two times the size of the state of Alaska.
Ecosystems in Danger
James Watson is the lead author of the study. He is also an expert at The University of Queensland in Australia. He says that “the amount of wilderness that vanished in just two decades is staggering”.
When looking at the results of the study one continent at a time, the data is uneven. Some continents have lost larger surfaces than others.
South America lost three times the global average in the last two decades. That’s 30 percent less wilderness on that continent.
The continent of Africa lost 14 percent of wild ecosystems. Still more than the global average.
Some areas have almost completely lost their wilderness and have become fully developed by humans. Areas like the Northwestern Congolian Lowland Forests and Northern New Guinea Lowland Rainforests.
Researchers say that these losses could have a strong negative impact on communities that are indigenous to the area. Wildlife is sure to suffer consequences, with lower and lower populations of wild animals. Another effect will probably be on climate change. The more spaces we develop the less space there is for natural habitats. Like rainforests, that are virtual green lungs that clean the air and make it breathable.
Because wilderness regions are interconnected and depend on one another there is no such thing such as small losses. Even the destruction of a small part of an ecosystem can affect the entire system in a negative way. With chain reactions that are triggered by the logic of the ecosystem in an almost domino effect.
Image source: Wikipedia.