Image for World’s wilderness at further risk

*Pic: Ted Mead – Sunset over a volcanic rim in Eastern Indonesia.

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Pic – Ted Mead - Australia’s desert wilderness in bloom after rain.

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Pic - Ted Mead - An Emperor Penguin rookery in Antarctica, the world’s grandest wilderness.

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Pic – Ted Mead –  The Tarkine Wilderness is under constant risk from subsidised resource extraction.

Wilderness across the globe continues to be on a steady decline, and the attrition of our pristine landscape through increasing human population, unbridled development, and rampant resource extraction is continuing to take its toll. 

In this 21st century, wild places are only seemingly intact where the environment is highly unsuitable for human settlement, or the natural resources are uneconomical to extract, but with new technology, and lack of resource availability there will be increased pressure on the last of our earth’s most primeval places.

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Since 1993 the world has lost 3.3 million square kilometres of wilderness (around 10% of the previous remaining wilderness area); most notably in South America, which lost about a 30% wilderness, and Africa, which has lost 14%.

Many of the planet’s superlative natural features are already prescribed as a World Heritage Area through UNESCO’s World Heritage listing. Some of these Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS) are encapsulated within wilderness areas, and although wilderness in itself is not criteria for listing, that focus may change as further areas of primitive country across the globe diminish.

Wilderness by definition cannot be recreated once it is lost, and therefore the argument for protecting wilderness areas by adding them to the NWHS list is therefore compelling.

Currently the earth’s last intact wilderness areas are being rapidly destroyed ( https://theconversation.com/the-worlds-carbon-stores-are-going-up-in-smoke-with-vanishing-wilderness-65345 ). More than 5 million square km of wilderness (around 10% of the total area) have been lost in the past two decades. If this continues, the consequences for both people and nature will be catastrophic.

Large terrestrial wilderness areas host a huge range of environmental values, including endangered species and ecosystems, and critical functions such as storing carbon and providing fresh water. Many indigenous people and local communities, who are often politically and economically marginalised, depend on wilderness areas, and have deep cultural connections to them.

The World Heritage Convention could better achieve its objectives and make a substantial contribution to the conservation of wilderness areas by expanding their parameters to -

1 -  Formally acknowledge the ‘Outstanding Universal Values’ of wilderness areas.
2 -  Strengthen the current protection of wilderness within Natural World Heritage Sites.
3 -  Expand or reconfigure current NWHS to include more wilderness.
4 - Designate new NWHS in wilderness areas.

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The above map depicts the areas of wilderness across the nation, and most notably the vast expanses across the Australia’s Western Deserts.

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Wilderness quality in Tasmania has decreased dramatically in the last half century due to hydro electricity generation, forestry and mining activities. Even commercial tourism has diminished the last high-grade wilderness on the Tasman Peninsula, fully supported with contempt for the state Greens.

Wilderness is priceless, and should be considered as preservation of the world.

*Ted Mead has been a staunch campaigner for wilderness protection for over 35 years, and during that time he has extensively explored wild places nationally and internationally. Ted acknowledges that his adventures into wilderness is essentially what keeps him feeling alive, and claims that the loss of any primeval land across the globe comes as great loss to everyone, and all forms of biodiversity on earth!

• Robert Middleton in Comments: Congratulations Ted, on another outstanding contribution to TT. Perhaps future governments and cultures will increasingly value wilderness as the priceless asset that it truly is. In Tasmania, the wilderness, the tall trees, the temperate rain-forests, the magnificent landscape - all of it belongs to everyone. It shouldn’t matter what political party one embraces. All Tasmanians should be immensely proud of, and enjoy as much as possible, teach their children to love, and fiercely defend and protect the greatest asset the island will ever have.