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Priority for protection of land areas

Lowest

Highest

Priority for protection of ocean areas

Lowest

Highest

Protected

Lowlands south of the Hudson Bay  boast some 125,500 square miles of peatlands sheltering massive stores of carbon. Keeping them intact is key as the climate warms.

The Amazon rainforest is home to over 430 mammal and 1,200 bird species. When not burned or logged, it’s a top absorber of carbon dioxide.

The Cape Floristic Region has the most species-rich temperate flora in the world; many of its plants are endemic. Defending against land conversion and invasive species is crucial.

The Congo Basin’s Cuvette Centrale could host the world’s largest carbon-storing tropical peatland complex. Roughly the size of England, it was recently discovered and largely untouched.

Indochina contains more than 390 mammal species, yet over a quarter of the biodiverse region’s mammals are threatened. Risks include wildlife overhunting and habitat loss.

Tropical island rainforests in Southeast Asia harbor about 12 percent of the world’s mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile, and plant species; all are at risk from deforestation.

Red Sea coral reefs can survive high water temperatures. Scientists are trying to understand why—and are looking for ways to transfer that resilience to more vulnerable reefs.

The confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans teems with species, especially at key points of the year, such as when dolphins, sharks, and whales congregate to feast on billions of sardines.

The Coral Triangle contains 76 percent of the world’s coral species, including more than 500 species of reef-building corals which are vital to marine ecosystem health.

Coral islands and atolls harbor some of the largest fish biomass in the Pacific. In Fakarava, 20,000 marbled groupers— food for reef sharks— come to spawn every year.

The Eastern Pacific is one of the last remaining strongholds of marine megafauna such as sharks, tuna, and sea turtles. Predators at the top of the food chain help maintain ecosystems.

This story is part of our special issue on Earth Day. Read the rest of our stories here.

Today just 15 percent of land and 7 percent of the ocean is protected; new research is providing a blueprint of the most important areas to conserve next. The strategic placement of newly protected areas could help conserve the world’s biodiversity and safeguard carbon stocks. Preservation of these hot spots—some discovered only recently— could help save millions of species and mitigate climate change.

By Ryan Morris, Matt Chwastyk, Eve Conant and Irene Berman-Vapois

Sources: The Nature Map Initiative; Martin Jung and Piero Visconti, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; Xavier de Lamo, Oliver Tallowin, and Jennifer Mark, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre; Enric Sala and Juan Mayorga, Pristine Seas, National Geographic Society; Trisha Atwood, Utah State University; Reniel Cabral, University of California, Santa Barbara.

This content is supported by the Wyss Campaign for Nature, which is working with the National Geographic Society and others across the globe to help protect at least 30 percent of our planet by 2030. Copyright © 2020 National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.