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July 25, 2018

The Location and Protection Status of Earth’s Diminishing Marine Wilderness

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Language: English

As human activities increasingly threaten biodiversity, areas devoid of intense human impacts are vital refugia. These wilderness areas contain high genetic diversity, unique functional traits, and endemic species; maintain high levels of ecological and evolutionary connectivity; and may be well placed to resist and recover from the impacts of climate change. On land, rapid declines in wilderness have led to urgent calls for its protection. In contrast, little is known about the extent and protection of marine wilderness. Here we systematically map marine wilderness globally by identifying areas that have both very little impact (lowest 10%) from 15 anthropogenic stressors and also a very low combined cumulative impact from these stressors. We discover that ∼13% of the ocean meets this definition of global wilderness, with most being located in the high seas. Recognizing that human influence differs across ocean regions, we repeat the analysis within each of the 16 ocean realms. Realm-specific wilderness extent varies considerably, with >16 million km2 (8.6%) in the Warm Indo-Pacific, down to