Terrestrial Protected Areas

Protected areas are recognized geographical locations that receive protection due to their ecological, spiritual, cultural or scientific value.

The global network of protected areas varies across countries and ecoregions, depending upon national needs and doctrines as well as legislative and financial support. A protected area can be nationally designated and/or internationally recognized under a treaty, convention or agreement.

The world’s coastal landscapes, habitats and historical landmarks are important for providing people with a sense of place and for their spiritual and aesthetic value, but only a small portion of them currently have protection status.

Today there are more than 100,000 protected areas worldwide, comprising about 12 percent of the Earth’s surface, but only about 1.6% of the ocean’s area is protected (SCBD 2008).

Which Goals Does This Affect?

How Was It Measured?

Due to the fact that the majority of countries have not identified lasting special places (as defined by the Ocean Health Index), coastal and terrestrial protected areas were used as proxies for identifying them.

The terrestrial protected areas of interest were identified as those with a direct connection to coastal systems rather than indirect connections (e.g. via a river); only those within a 1-km wide strip parallel to the shoreline were assessed, using data from the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA; see UNEP and IUCN 2010).

WDPA is a comprehensive global dataset for marine and terrestrial protected areas and is a joint product of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), prepared by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. The database includes all nationally-designated (e.g. national parks, nature reserves) and internationally-recognized protected areas (e.g. UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance). 

All protected areas within the database meet IUCN's definition of a protected area as an "area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means."

WDPA includes both proposed and designated protected areas, but only those with ‘designated’ status were included in the Ocean Health Index. 8,965 additional designated protected areas that were not included in the WDPA (2010) database were downloaded from the WDPA website for select countries.

What Are The Impacts?

Terrestrial protected areas sustain critical habitats, preserve biodiversity, and enhance species resilience by limiting anthropogenic pressures.
Terrestrial protected areas maintain places of special significance to people. These can be of cultural, recreational, aesthetic or spiritual value, and give people a sense of place and societal connection with marine ecosystems. The protection of coastal habitats also helps to sustain natural resources and ecosystem services that are necessary for human well-being, including the advancement of science and medicine.
Terrestrial protected areas promote the tourist industry that is vital to coastal livelihoods and economies.

Near-shore terrestrial protected areas protect marine resources of critical economic value (e.g. water, fisheries) and, in certain cases, help preserve artisanal and subsistence fishing.

Get More Information

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA)
The IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme provides methods for evaluating the economic value of protected areas and useful case study examples.

United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)
The Protected Areas Program compiles global spatial datasets on marine and terrestrial protected areas.

The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA)
The WDPA is global dataset for protected areas that provides information from national governments, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and many others.


PHOTO(S): © Keith A. Ellenbogen
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