Protect the last of the wild

James E.M. Watson, Oscar Venter, Jasmine Lee, Kendall R. Jones, John G. Robinson, Hugh P. Possingham, James R. Allan

Research output: Contribution to journalComment / DebateOtherpeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


A century ago, only 15% of Earth’s surface was used to grow crops and raise livestock. Today, more than 77% of land (excluding Antarctica) and 87% of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities. This is illustrated in our global map of intact ecosystems (see ‘What’s left?’).

Between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India — a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres — was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures. In the ocean, areas that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions.

Numerous studies are revealing that Earth’s remaining wilderness areas are increasingly important buffers against the effects of climate change and other human impacts. But, so far, the contribution of intact ecosystems has not been an explicit target in any international policy framework, such as the United Nations’ Strategic Plan for Biodiversity or the Paris climate agreement.

This must change if we are to prevent Earth’s intact ecosystems from disappearing completely.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-30
Number of pages4
Issue number7729
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Conservation biology

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