Roughly 30 million acres of the world’s tropical forest were destroyed last year, equating to the fourth-highest annual loss since record keeping began in 2001, according to a new report that analyzed satellite imagery.
The latest findings released on Thursday by the Global Forest Watch, an initiative of the World Resources Institute, paints a disturbing picture of a worldwide trend in forest destruction.
Overall, the loss of tropical tree cover is down from the highest levels recorded in 2016 and 2017, which saw a spike in tree cover loss due to fires. (The Global Forest Watch reported 42 million acres destroyed in 2016 and 39 million in 2017.)
However, 2018 was still one of the most destructive years since record keeping began in 2001, researchers behind the study said.
“It’s really tempting to celebrate a second year of decline since peak tree cover loss in 2016, but if you look back over the last 18 years, it’s clear that the overall trend is still upward,” said Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, according to the BBC.
The data is compiled by researchers at the University of Maryland who developed software to analyze tree cover canopy using satellite imagery. The software doesn’t differentiate between permanent deforestation or temporary loss from natural or human causes.
Some of the greatest forest loss recorded last year was nearly 9 million acres of “primary,” or old-growth, rainforest, comparable to the area of Belgium, the researchers reported.
The trees in these forests can be hundreds or even thousands of years old. In addition to supplying more carbon than other forests, primary rainforests serve as the home for protected or endangered species, such as orangutans, mountain gorillas, jaguars and tigers, according to the World Resources Institute.
Among the countries with the most significant gains and loses, Brazil continues to lose the most tree cover each year, losing 3.3 million acres in 2018. Ghana and Ivory Coast also saw the largest percentage increases in forest loss, with Ghana experiencing a 60% increase and Ivory Coast a 26% increase.
Indonesia, which saw the third-greatest amount lost, just behind the Democratic Republic of Congo, has for the last two years seen less forest loss. It reduced its primary forest losses in 2018 by about 40%, which is its lowest rate since 2003.
This decrease follows two wet years that diminished the effects of fires as well as the country instituting new conservation policies in 2016.
“It seems that Indonesia’s forest policies are working,” Mikaela Weisse, manager of the Global Forest Watch program, told The New York Times.