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News spotlight: Conservation works, offers hope for biodiversity

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A sweeping analysis of more than 600 conservation efforts — some dating back a century — found that they’re making a big difference for nature, Esme Stallard reported for BBC News.

In two out of every three cases, the analysis found that creating protected areas, restoring habitats, controlling invasive species and other conservation actions either improved biodiversity or curbed its decline.

The findings provide the strongest evidence yet that conservation works, according to study co-author Penny Langhammer, executive vice president of Re:wild.

“If you read the headlines about extinction these days, it would be easy to get the impression that we are failing biodiversity — but that's not really looking at the whole picture,” Langhammer told BBC News.

Those headlines show that nature is in crisis as habitat destruction and climate change push more than 1 million species to near extinction. Scientists say human activities have sped up extinctions to a rate not seen in 10 million years.

Yet, evidence shows conservation is making a difference. 

The new analysis reviewed 186 studies that covered 665 conservation efforts in countries around the world. For example, in the Congo Basin, the adoption of forest management plans reduced deforestation by 74 percent compared to areas that did not have plans. And in Florida’s barrier islands, efforts to manage predators of the Least Tern — a threatened bird that lives on shorelines — helped double its breeding rates.

Even in situations where the conservation interventions failed to increase populations of the targeted species, other species benefited from those actions. Perceived failures offer important lessons that improve future actions, researchers noted.

Ultimately, the study shows that conservation works — when there’s funding. Study co-author Joseph Bull told BBC News that “these measures are clearly not being funded at a sufficient scale to actually start to reverse global declines in biodiversity.”

A Conservation International study found that more than two-thirds of the population of the tropics — about 2.7 billion people — directly depend on nature for at least one of their most basic needs. 

And more than half of the world’s GDP — nearly US$ 44 trillion — is moderately or highly reliant on it, according to the World Economic Forum.

Yet experts estimate there is a US$ 700 billion gap for biodiversity protection. In 2022, nearly 200 countries agreed to protect 30 percent of Earth’s land and seas by 2030 and allotted US$ 200 billion per year to do so. However, so far, efforts have fallen short.

Notably, of the hundreds of studies reviewed in the analysis, only a handful came from countries in the Global South, which reflects the lack of representation in academic publishing and funding, researchers said.

While that doesn’t change the results, Bull told BBC News, it’s a shortcoming that the authors hope to correct with future research. 

Read the story from BBC News here.

Mary Kate McCoy is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Also, please consider supporting our critical work.