Conservation needs a COVID-19 bailout

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Science  31 Jul 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6503, pp. 515-516
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd2854

Our ongoing extinction crisis (1) poses an existential threat to civilization (2), yet almost all biodiversity conservation strategies are underfunded (3). As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic exposes the fragile foundation of global conservation (4), the ability of current conservation strategies to prevent the accelerated loss of biodiversity has become even more precarious.

COVID-19–induced reductions in trade and travel may temporarily reduce threats to biodiversity (4). However, the nearly complete cessation of ecotourism and other income sources to many conservation areas and agencies is likely to drastically reduce biodiversity management and anti-poaching activities (5) and escalate unsanctioned resource extraction as economic hardships threaten livelihoods (5, 6). Globally, governments have responded to pandemic impacts in other sectors of the economy by allocating almost US$11 trillion (7) of economic stimulus. However, conservation has yet to receive such stimulus packages, even though conservation is at the core of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (8).

One of the most effective mechanisms for successful conservation of biodiversity is the establishment, expansion, and effective management of protected areas (3) and associated conservation lands (9). Ideal for economic stimulus funding, protected areas provide both direct short- and long-term economic benefits (10), assist vulnerable communities, and address policy needs (11). With clear multiplier effects, stimulus investments in protected areas will immediately promote job creation and economic activity, while subsequently bolstering national economies, maintaining vital ecosystem services, and mitigating climate change (3, 6). Unlike traditional economic sectors, protected areas also have the potential to advance social development agendas, including just employment, sustainable food production, social inclusion, and access to education, safe drinking water, and dignified sanitation (11, 12).

As pandemic-induced losses in biodiversity are unlikely to be recovered (3), the time to act is now. We urgently advocate for future stimulus packages to include funds for conservation and protected areas. These investments should be contingent on creating more resilient and sustainable models of conservation funding, increasing ownership rights, and promoting equitable development that strengthens livelihoods and benefits society as a whole.

References and Notes

Competing Interests

R.A.M. receives funding from the U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project FLA-WEC-005125. R.A.M. and R.J.F. receive funding from a National Science Foundation International Research Experiences for Students grant (No. 1459882).

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