An assessment published Thursday in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series says biodiversity is in steep decline despite impressively rapid growth of protected land and marine areas worldwide, now numbering more than 100,000 and covering 6.5 million square miles of land and 0.7 million square miles of ocean.
Human population growth and consumption will impose an unsustainable toll on Earth's resources and accelerate the rate at which biodiversity is being lost, a release from the United Nations University said.
"Biodiversity is humanity's life-support system, delivering everything from food, to clean water and air, to recreation and tourism, to novel chemicals that drive our advanced civilization," lead study author Camilo Mora of the of University of Hawaii at Manoa said. "Yet there is an increasingly well-documented global trend in biodiversity loss, triggered by a host of human activities."
Expanded designation of protected areas may not be sufficient, researchers say.
"Protected areas are very useful conservation tools, but unfortunately, the steep continuing rate of biodiversity loss signals the need to reassess our heavy reliance on this strategy," said Peter F. Sale of the United Nations University's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
"Our study shows that the international community is faced with a choice between two paths," Sale said. "One option is to continue a narrow focus on creating more protected areas with little evidence that they curtail biodiversity loss. That path will fail.
"The other path requires that we get serious about addressing the growth in size and consumption rate of our global population."