With more than 100,000 protected areas now covering nearly 12 percent of Earth's land surface, it is timely to have an overview of how protected areas are doing, what the geographical variations may be, and what challenges remain. The World's Protected Areas: Status, Values, and Prospects in the Twenty-first Century intends to provide such a global overview. Its three editors, all of whom have been associated with the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in the United Kingdom at one time or another, draw on expertise from all parts of the world to give the book outstanding authority. The book provides an authoritative perspective on the numbers, extent, and types of protected areas. It also offers an introduction to the multiple approaches to managing protected areas in various parts of the world, examines the critical role of protected areas in conserving global biodiversity, and gives a reasonable indication of where gaps remain in the global network of protected areas (especially in the marine environment).
Even though these numerous areas are under legal protection, virtually all of them face significant threats, including human settlement and incursion, changes in fire regime, the development of infrastructure such as dams and roads, the growth of tourism and recreation (very much a mixed blessing), resource extraction (from mining operations and wildlife poaching, e.g.), the impacts of nonnative species, and climate change—one threat that will certainly affect all of the others just enumerated.
The World—s Protected Areas reflects the latest thinking about protected-area management, recognizing, for example, the importance of developing more sensitive relationships with people living in and around the protected areas. Indigenous peoples often feel aggrieved when protected areas are established on lands traditionally considered to be their ancestral domain, but some countries are finding ways of ensuring that indigenous peoples earn their fair share of the benefits that accrue from the establishment of protected areas.
The obvious way to respond to the challenges that protected areas face is to improve the effectiveness of management. To this end, the book usefully examines the various approaches that are being applied around the world, in the marine environment as well as on land. The coverage of all of these topics is relatively brief and presented in language the nonspecialist can easily understand. All of the introductory chapters are well illustrated with photographs, tables, and boxes, making the overall package extremely attractive. The photographs are invariably of very high quality.
As the human population soars toward nine billion and pressures on natural resources intensify, it will become increasingly important to ensure that protected areas are well managed and strongly supported by the general public. Books like The World's Protected Areas will help to justify the necessary investments.
The second half of the book is devoted to a regional perspective on protected areas, broken down by country or island. Nearly 120 contributors helped to ensure the authority of these regional overviews. Each of these passages tends to be relatively brief, however, and the maps are impressionistic rather than literally accurate—North America, for example, occupies only a single page, and it appears as if most of the western United States is a giant protected area. But the maps also help to illustrate, among other important facts, that many protected areas are located on sensitive national borders, and a large number of protected areas are in biologically rich mountainous terrain. Still, the maps can sometimes be slightly misleading, as in the case of Ukraine: the map seems to indicate that about half of the territory consists of protected areas, while the actual figure is only around 3.5 percent. The fact that this 3.5 percent comprises almost 5200 protected areas suggests that most of those areas are too small to be well mapped at the scale adopted for The World—s Protected Areas. It is up to the reader to calculate that Ukraine's protected areas average only about 4.3 square kilometers in area, as the tables cover only land area, total protected area, and total number of sites. It would have been helpful to have such information available as percentage figures for those who want to make comparisons between countries. For example, in contrast to Ukraine, India has just 662 protected areas, but the average area of each is nearly 270 square kilometers.
This volume left me with the impression that a monumental effort is being made in many parts of the world to save what remains of wild nature. Compromises between biodiversity conservation goals and pressing human needs are inevitable, but new approaches are being strongly promoted, especially approaches that seek to promote transboundary protected areas and to link protected areas with compatible forms of land use, thereby providing potential migration corridors as climates inevitably change in the future. With more than half of the world's population now living in cities, it is even more important that we conserve samples of wild nature so that people can retain a measure of contact with the world in which our species evolved. As the human population soars toward nine billion and pressures on natural resources intensify, it will become increasingly important to ensure that protected areas are well managed and strongly supported by the general public. Books like The World's Protected Areas will help to justify the necessary investments, though those involved professionally in protected-area management will want more specific advice and maps at a more informative scale. These undoubtedly will become available as a consortium of leading conservation organizations further develops the World Database on Protected Areas.