The continued reliance on a strategy of setting aside land and marine territories as “protected areas” is insufficient to stem global biodiversity loss, says a comprehensive study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series, a journal of the Germany-based Inter-Research Science Centre, on Thursday.

Despite an impressively rapid growth of protected land and marine areas worldwide, totalling over 1,00,000 in number and covering 17 million sq.km of land and 2 million sq.km of oceans, biodiversity is in a steep decline, it adds.

The authors of the study, Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii and Peter F. Sale of the United Nations University's International Network on Water, Health and Environment, says that in a country like India alone, about 4 million people can get displaced if protected areas are fully enforced.

While stating that protected areas are a valuable tool in the fight to preserve biodiversity, the study suggests getting serious about addressing the growth in size of the global population and the consumption rate because protected areas alone cannot solve the biodiversity loss problems.

“Clearly, the biodiversity loss problem has been underestimated and the ability of protected areas to solve this problem overestimated,” Dr. Mora says.

Expected scenarios of human population growth and consumption levels indicate that cumulative human demands will impose an unsustainable toll on the Earth's ecological resources and services, accelerating the rate at which biodiversity is being lost. Current and future human requirements will worsen the challenge of effectively implementing protected areas, while suggesting at the same time that effective biodiversity conservation requires new approaches.

Dr. Mora says, “Biodiversity is humanity's life support system delivering everything from food to clean water and air to recreation, tourism and to novel chemicals that drive our advanced civilisation.” Yet there is an increasingly well-documented global trend in biodiversity loss triggered by a host of human activities.

Dr. Sale says, “Protected areas have helped preserve some species at local scales, but promotion of this strategy as a global solution to biodiversity loss has occurred without adequate assessment of their potential effectiveness in achieving the goal.”

They warn that long-term failure of the protected areas strategy can erode public and political support for biodiversity conservation. The study also says that continuing heavy reliance on protected areas strategy has technical and practical limitations. These include slow growth in protected area coverage, inadequate size and connectivity of protected areas, underfunding, and conflicts with human development.