SYDNEY -- The remaining spots of wilderness in the world are rapidly disappearing, with explicit global conservation targets urgently needed to stem the loss, according to latest Australian-led research.

"A century ago, only 15 percent of the Earth's surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock. Today, more than 77 percent of land, excluding Antarctica, and 87 percent of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities," the University of Queensland's Professor James Watson said in a statement about the research that it led on Thursday.

The international team mapped intact ocean ecosystems, complementing another project charting remaining terrestrial wilderness. The two studies provided "the first full global picture of how little wilderness remains," according to the researchers.

"It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India, a staggering 3.3 million square kilometers, was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures," said Watson.

"And in the ocean, the only regions that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions."

The study showed that the world's remaining wilderness could only be protected if its importance was recognized in international policy, said university researcher James R. Allan. The findings were published in scientific journal Nature.

"Some wilderness areas are protected under national legislation, but in most nations, these areas are not formally defined, mapped or protected," he said.

"We need the immediate establishment of bold wilderness targets, specifically those aimed at conserving biodiversity, avoiding dangerous climate change and achieving sustainable development."
"One obvious intervention these nations can prioritize is establishing protected areas in ways that would slow the impacts of industrial activity on the larger landscape or seascape," said Watson.

Industrial development must also be reined in to "protect indigenous livelihoods, create mechanisms that enable the private sector to protect wilderness, and push the expansion of regional fisheries management organizations." (Xinhuanet)