The WCMC's database on protected areas has enabled scientists to begin assessing the effectiveness of global conservation planning. The first global gap analysis, prepared by Conservation International in 2003, found that although the global target of ten per cent coverage had been achieved, 12 per cent of the biodiversity analysed wasn't protected. This included more than 700 threatened species.
The problem lies in the way in which the biome approach to planning has been applied. "The fixed percentage target isn't appropriate," says the study's principal author, Ana Rodrigues. "Not only do some biomes have many more species than others, some have a higher species turnover." In other words, they have a high degree of endemism on quite small scales, so the species present on one mountaintop might be completely different from those on a nearby mountain, for example. "With this kind of narrow endemism, you need to protect specific regions, so overall you need to protect a larger area."
Historically, planning has usually not been aimed at creating a network that is comprehensive when it comes to protecting biodiversity. "Typically," says Rodrigues, "protected areas are designated one at a time in response to a particular interest or pressure. Frequently, nations use criteria that are valuable in terms of landscape and beauty, but aren't the most effective in terms of biodiversity conservation." Often these are areas that nobody else wants. "So you tend to have a bias in existing protected areas towards nice mountaintops full of ice and rock."
When the issue was raised at the seventh CBD congress last year, parties agreed to conduct their own gap analyses and to look into establishing protected area networks that are more representative in terms of biodiversity. This is certainly a positive step, but it isn't the end of the story, because even where protected areas are positioned effectively, there is still a great disparity in the way in which they perform.
Indeed, it's clear that in many countries, protected areas are seriously compromised. The dramatic rise of hunting for bushmeat in West and Central Africa over the past 30 years has been well documented, as has the explosion in the past decade of illegal logging in Southeast Asia. But elsewhere, protected areas face more insidious threats. The Dong Hua Sao National Biodiversity Conservation Area in Laos, for example, has suffered a gradual erosion of its boundaries at the hands of coffee growers keen to take advantage of its rich volcanic soil. The reasons for such pressures are varied and complex, but they often include population growth, land pressure, poverty, corruption and poor law enforcement. …