Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Humans Destroyed Intact Ecosystem Land the Size of Mexico in Just 13 Years

Science
Humans Destroyed Intact Ecosystem Land the Size of Mexico in Just 13 Years
A palm tree plantation in Malaysia. Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Getty Images Plus

Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.


That's the mind-melting finding of a new study published in One Earth Friday, and the researchers say it has "profound implications" for global biodiversity and for humans who rely on natural resources.

"We were expecting there to be high levels of intact ecosystem and wilderness loss, but the results were shocking," lead researcher Brooke Williams of the University of Queensland told The Guardian. "We found substantial area of intact ecosystems had been lost in just 13 years – nearly two million square kilometres – which is terrifying to think about. Our findings show that human pressure is extending ever further into the last ecologically intact and wilderness areas."

In total, the researchers found that 1.9 million square kilometers (approximately 700,000 square miles) of previously intact ecosystem area had been "highly modified" during the study period. They also found that 58.4 percent of Earth's land ecosystems were under "moderate or intense" pressure from human activity, while only 41.6 percent of ecosystems were intact and 25 percent were true wilderness.

The 1.9 million square kilometers lost were mostly tropical and subtropical grasslands in Asia, South America and Africa, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which participated in the research. The rainforests of Southeast Asia also suffered significant human encroachments.

To achieve these results, an international team of 17 scientists from six countries used satellite imagery to assess the human footprint on land-based ecosystems and how it had changed between 2000 and 2013, The Guardian explained. The researchers found that human pressure increased on nearly 20 percent of the globe and decreased on only around six percent.

"Data does not lie," senior author James Watson from WCS and the University of Queensland said in the WCS press release. "Humanity keeps on shrinking the amount of land that other species need to survive. In a time of rapid climate change, we need to proactively secure the last intact ecosystems on the planet, as these are critical in the fight to stop extinction and halt climate change."

The study comes amidst other dire news for wildlife and biodiversity. A UN study released last week found that world governments had failed to achieve any of the 20 targets they had set for preserving biodiversity by 2020. Another study published this month found that wildlife populations had plummeted 68 percent on average over the last 50 years.

Williams explained to WCS why the loss of intact ecosystems is such a big deal for humans and other animals.

"Intact lands are relied on by biodiversity for habitat, and by people for ecosystem services such as climate regulation and clean water," Williams said. "We continue to take these last functioning places for granted, and our results show urgent action is needed to protect those lands that do remain intact."

"Secrets of the Whales" is a new series that will start streaming on Disney+ on Earth Day. Disney+

In celebration of Earth Day, a star-studded cast is giving fans a rare glimpse into the secret lives of some of the planet's most majestic animals: whales. In "Secrets of the Whales," a four-part documentary series by renowned National Geographic Photographer and Explorer Brian Skerry and Executive Producer James Cameron, viewers plunge deep into the lives and worlds of five different whale species.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Spring is an excellent time to begin bird watching in earnest. Eugenio Marongiu / Cultura / Getty Images

The coronavirus has isolated many of us in our homes this year. We've been forced to slow down a little, maybe looking out our windows, becoming more in tune with the rhythms of our yards. Perhaps we've begun to notice more, like the birds hopping around in the bushes out back, wondering (maybe for the first time) what they are.

Read More Show Less
Trending
The brown pelican is seen on Queen Bess Island in Louisiana in March 2021. Casey Wright / LDWF biologist

Who says you can't go home again?

Read More Show Less
A helicopter drops water on burning vegetation as the Bond Fire burns in Silverado, California on Dec. 3, 2020. Mark Rightmire / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register via Getty Images

2020 was the largest wildfire season in California's modern history, according to state agency Cal Fire. And, as the climate crisis continues to increase fire risk, there are concerns that 2021 could be just as devastating.

Read More Show Less
Pump jacks draw crude oil from the Inglewood Oil Field near Los Angeles, California, on March 9, 2020. DAVID MCNEW / AFP via Getty Images

More than 1,600 gallons of oil have spilled in the Inglewood Oil Field — the largest urban oil field in the country, where more than a million people live within five miles of its boundaries, the Sierra Club wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

Read More Show Less