When properly supported, protected areas are an invaluable tool in safeguarding biodiversity, says Dr. James Watson, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Climate Change Program. But, he says with a group of colleagues in an article published Nov. 5 in Nature, only one in four is well managed. A fundamental change, they say, involving an increase in funding and a renewed political commitment is urgently needed to ensure that protected areas meet their full potential.

In advance of the paper's publication, Dr. Watson answered a few questions on the subject:

What are the top three to five points you want people to take away from this Nature paper?

  1. Protected areas (PAs), when well financed, and well resourced, work. Have a look at protected areas that save tigers, that save elephants, that sustain coral reef fisheries. They work becauce they stop destructive activities – plain and simple.
  2. However, not all of them work. Only 20 percent of PAs are well managed which means 80 percent of PAs are not getting the funding they need. There is also clear evidence showing many nations around the world are backtracking their commitments towards PAs, leading to their delisting, degazetting and downsizing. These are not just in a few corrupt developing countries but the whole shabam – first world nations are leading the way in this poor behavior.
  3. We need to recognize this backtrack. To meet the CBD commitments that nations have committed to, we need a step-change in terms of government commitment and funding. Money is important – and at about 70 billion dollars – doing the right thing is quite cheap (especially when one considers what we spend on the military). But is not simply about money … it’s about planning effectively. As the world’s population expands, as every nation on earth puts in place their economic development pathways, we need to actively and urgently identify those great landscapes and seascapes that are still functional, that still contain all of their species, and by their own nature make them resilient to climate change. We then need to actively seek their protection. We need to recognize that what we protect in the next 20 years counts the most because in 2030 there will be limited options for future appointments for PAs. The time to act is now.

Are protected areas the best, last hope for saving the world's biodiversity?

Yes, especially when well financed. They stop destructive human behavior – simple as that. It means they are a controversial mechanism for some but it also means it is effective. They are the core tool in the conservation toolbox.

Are you hopeful that your paper will influence governments around the globe to invest more in protected areas?

Yes, I hope the paper is not just a whinge but rather it identified the core parts of a new strategy. The strategy argues it is time to: 1. Stop the backtracking of current commitments; 2. To spend the money to make sure current protected areas work; 3. To plan cleverly in the future so that the future PA estate has the best chance halting the biodiversity crisis.

Read more about the study in the press release >>