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Protected areas can benefit nature and people

Protected areas can benefit nature and people

Nature Benefit

Protected areas, such as nature reserves, can conserve biodiversity without harming local economic growth, countering a common belief that conservation restricts development. A new study outlines what is needed for conservation to benefit both nature and people. “There’s long been uncertainty about the economic tradeoffs,” said Binbin Li, associate professor of environmental science at Duke Kunshan University and lead author of the study published on June 20 in Current Biology.

“Our findings show that achieving both aims is more common than we previously expected. But that balance depends on socioeconomic conditions near a protected area,” said Li. The study found that 91% of the nearly 10,000 protected areas examined lost no or less natural land than similar but unprotected areas—a conservation win.

Protected areas balancing growth and conservation

Surprisingly, almost half of the surveyed protected areas safeguard natural land without hurting, and sometimes even helping, local economic growth. Several factors contribute to their success, including the presence of nearby roads and a higher level of economic development.

“Biodiverse regions with emerging economies, like the Amazon and Southeast Asia, face the biggest challenges meeting the needs of nature and people,” said co-author Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Distinguished Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University. “We must consider local development alongside conservation to know where and how to protect areas to benefit both the environment and humans.”

The study revealed that 60% of the communities living around protected areas had similar or higher levels of economic growth compared to those living around unprotected areas. Protected areas that effectively safeguard nature while benefiting local development tend to be smaller in size and closer to markets and cities.

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“Bigger isn’t necessarily better,” said Li. “We need to achieve win-win outcomes more often, especially in the most biodiverse regions that can ill-afford losing out on either economic development or biodiversity.”

“We cannot address biodiversity loss without addressing local development issues,” Li emphasized.

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