Owing to huge global population and increasing human activities, the world's remaining wilderness areas - regions where the lands are in their natural state - are rapidly disappearing, with explicit worldwide conservation targets critically needed, new research says.
In 2016, an global team of researchers mapped terrestrial wilderness across the globe. Human activities have also directly or indirectly modified 87% of today's oceans.
"Many wilderness areas are critical sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide", adds the study. (3,861 sq. mi.). The survey excludes Antarctica and the open seas, but the authors note that marine regions "free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are nearly completely confined to the polar regions".
"Some wilderness areas are protected under national legislation, but in most nations, these areas are not formally defined, mapped or protected", Allen said.
Explicit, urgent, and decisive measures are required if we want to preserve what's left of the planet's last wild areas.
Scientists say the last wilderness areas left on the planet are rapidly disappearing, with explicit global conservation targets "critically needed". "We must grasp these opportunities to secure the wilderness before it disappears forever".
While Antarctica's isolation and extreme climate have helped protect it from the degradation experienced elsewhere, climate change, human activity, pollution, and invasive species increasingly threaten the continent's wildlife and wilderness.
For oceans, they used data on fishing, industrial shipping and fertiliser run-off to determine that just 13 percent of the planet's seas bore little or no hallmarks of human activity.
The scientists are calling for the establishment of global targets aimed at conserving biodiversity and avoiding unsafe climate change. "Already we have lost so much", the report says.
It comes ahead of the conference of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November where signatory nations are working towards a plan for the protection of biodiversity beyond 2020.
"One take on the list is that alarm bells go off", said Watson.
If the wilderness is not protected urgently, their refuge function, important especially in times of climate change, will be affected.
Mechanisms such as REDD+, which allows developing nations to claim compensation for conserving tropical forests they had planned to clear, could be extended to other carbon-rich wilderness areas such as intact seagrasses, and even to wildernesses in rich countries that do not receive climate aid, such as the Canadian tundra. Not only is it the most intact ecosystem on the entire planet, the authors say, but it captures and stores around a third of the Earth's terrestrial carbon. It can also be called a wild or natural area, but in many countries, Wilderness Area actually has a legal meaning. Key to this will be lenders' investment and performance standards, particularly for organisations such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the regional development banks.