Protected areas include: large tracts of land set aside for the protection of wildlife and its habitat; areas of great natural beauty or unique interest; areas containing rare forms of plant and animal life; areas representing unusual geologic formations; places of historic and prehistoric interest; areas containing ecosystems of special importance for scientific investigation and study; and areas which safeguard the needs of the biosphere. These areas serve a number of specific purposes: some provide recreation for large numbers of people without seriously detracting from the natural values; some aim to retain their more pristine beauty through greater restrictions; others (strict nature reserves) are reserved solely for scientific research as relatively undisturbed environments; and still others provide a reservoir of genetic materials in a spectrum of organisms adapted to a particular range of soil and climatic conditions.
Many national parks of high tourist value are being flooded by rising numbers of tourists and suffer from insufficient or inappropriate planning and management. Such parks, particularly in the developing countries, represent a major source of income which could be jeopardized if they deteriorate. Valuable wildlands are threatened by pressure detrimental to their protection and use. Damage frequently arises from a lack of understanding or interest, particularly in some developing countries, of the value of such wildlands. Deterioration often results from a lack of knowledge, or political or economic considerations generally inhibiting or delaying the required action, until the parks exist on paper only. The possibilities of such deterioration increase whenever a park or otherwise protected area is shared by two or more countries.
In 1993 it was estimated that between two and three hundred of the 5,500 existing government-designation wildlife areas (Sites of Special Scientific Interest, SSIs) are damaged or destroyed each year. Examples are blanket bog in the flow country of Scotland and raised peat bogs, sand dunes, salt marshes and lowland heaths in southern England. Particular sites at risk are the Purbeck coast, Dorset, where oil and gas exploration threaten the loss of most unusual coralline seaweed and sponges; Loch Leven, Tayside, one of the country's most important waterfowl sites, which is threatened by nitrates, phosphates, sewage and industrial sediments; and The Cairngorms, Scotland (a candidate for World Heritage listing) where deer are destroying the ancient pine forest and upland bogs and tourism and skiing developments threaten the habitat of golden eagles and otters. 40 road building schemes in England alone would damage 150 SSIs as well as two national parks and 34 National Trust properties. A further 118 road building plans would damage designated special landscape, wildlife, or heritage sites.
The Laguna San Ignacio in Baja, California, Mexico was designated as a whale sanctuary in 1976. In 1988 it was included in the largest international biosphere reserve in Latin America, (Vizciano Biosphere Reserve) and in 1993 was listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. It is the last undisturbed gray whale breeding and calving area in the world and is of unique importance to the survival of the species. This site is threatened by a proposed salt works that would physically alter the ecosystem ie loss of habitat, as well as increase the risks of accidents with ships, the bioaccumulation of contaminants in the whales and of noise and waste with an increased human presence in the area.
The proposed saltworks in Baja the World heritage site and gray whale sanctuary would create a massive 116 square mile industrial landscape (larger than the area of the whale sanctuary), of evaporation ponds, a million ton salt stockpile, the industrial infrastructure and the facilities to support 200 employees while on site.The upper end of Laguna San Ignacio will have 17 pumps operating 24 hours a day to draw 6,600 gallons of saltwater per second from the lagoon into the evaporation ponds. The associated contamination will include oil, diesel and concentrated brine waste, which if the scheme is allowed will be dumped into the adjacent Bahia de las Ballenas—Bay of whales.
The flooding of 116 square miles of coastal tidal flats and mangroves will disturb the habitat of terrestrial species altering the tidal and runoff patterns and affecting the migratory birds. The extraction of saltwater will inevitable include small and young fish adversely affecting the fisheries of the region.
The industrialisation of undisturbed breeding habitats is contrary to the principles and values that sanctuaries, biosphere reserves and World Heritage sites were created to uphold. If industrialisation of the San Ignacio site proceeds then it will create a dangerous precedent.