New Essay Highlights COVID-19 Consequences for Protected and Conserved Areas

June 3, 2020

Offers Strategies to Reverse Negative Impacts Through Rescue, Recover and Rebuild Plan

Arlington, Va. (June 3, 2020) – An editorial published in PARKS The International Journal for Protected Areas and Conservation reveals the sweeping health, economic and conservation impacts of COVID-19 on protected lands and waters and the communities that rely on them in countries around the world.

Co-authors Conservation International Environmental Governance Social Scientist Rachel Golden Kroner and Executive Vice President Sebastian Troëng join more than 30 fellow conservation experts to issue a call-to-action to maintain and enhance protected and conserved areas for the benefit of people as the global community builds back following the pandemic. They say a “One Health” approach to conservation and development is necessary as the health of humans, animals and ecosystems are interconnected.

“With more than 370,000 deaths and an unfathomable economic decline, the coronavirus has been a sobering reminder of the connection between people and nature. We are inextricably linked,” said Troëng. “Protected areas are incredibly important to the well-being of humanity and the resiliency of our planet. Now is not the time to roll them back or refrain from investing in their creation and longevity, doing so could impact our future in devastating ways.”

The coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it transferred from wildlife to humans. Also, land-use change is one of the leading causes of emerging disease. Because they help reduce land degradation, protected areas are an important tool to protect nature and preserve human health. Governments have an opportunity to prioritize protected area management in an effort to reverse the current on-the-ground environmental trends resulting from COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’re only beginning to see the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the environment. What we do know are the positive co-benefits protected and conserved areas provide to society, making it even more important that we move toward a green recovery, and reverse the trends we’re seeing today” said Golden Kroner.

The PARKS paper identifies the following severe COVID-19 impacts on protected and conserved areas:

  • Rollbacks of environmental regulations (including protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement, or PADDD) and reduction of government budgets for protected areas;
  • Redirection of government efforts away from protected areas to other government priorities;
  • Reduction in tourism and therefore lack of funding for management and reduced income for nearby communities;
  • Increased potential for COVID-19 spread to wildlife (e.g. gorillas);
  • Increased deforestation which could result in further disease spread;
  • Increased poaching and movement of wild animals away from their natural habitat;
  • Reduced work hours for communities reliant on tourism and visitors;
  • Reduction in research and invasive species removal efforts.

The paper concludes with a three-phased action plan encouraging the global community – including governments, civil society and business – to rescue, recover and rebuild the global network of protected and conserved areas.

Step One – Rescue - To begin the rescue process for protected areas, it is essential we maintain existing laws that protect ecosystems, slow land-use change and support indigenous communities. Emergency plans, monitoring and emergency funding to protect nature, well-being and food security for the people managing and reliant on land.

Step Two – Recover - A long-term effort is needed to help protected areas overcome the lasting implications of COVID-19. Looking beyond the immediate outbreak, it will be important to promote the benefits of nature for physical and human health, integrating these principles into recovery, conservation, management and sustainable financing plans.

Step Three – Rebuild - It is possible to rebuild stronger by making the One Health approach central to long-term conservation efforts. Future work must be rights-based to ensure people and economies flourish. This resiliency can be achieved through the use of aspirational and innovative funding targets paired with a strengthened international framework for protected and conserved areas.

“Stronger long-term recovery is ambitious but it is necessary. We recognize many governments will face increased debt following the pandemic and one solution creating opportunity for conservation organizations to work with governments to restructure debt is through Debt-for-Nature swaps – an innovative approach that benefits countries and nature,” said Troëng.

“As we rebuild after the pandemic, all efforts must take a ‘do no harm’ approach and also fully consider the needs of local and indigenous communities, based on equity and benefit sharing,” said Golden Kroner. “Indigenous communities are on the front lines protecting nature every day and economic recovery efforts should be designed to avoid any unintended negative consequences for nature and people,” said Golden Kroner.

The editorial, analysis and recommendations include support from more than 30 wildlife and conservation experts including but not limited to the WWF, The Nature Conservancy, The Wildlife Conservation Society, The United Nations Environment Programme and The International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

About Conservation International

Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature.  We work in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation NewsFacebook, TwitterInstagram and YouTube.