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The percentage of nearshore coastline that is protected is a status component for the Sense of Place goal (Subgoal: Lasting Special Places).

Coastal landscapes and habitats make important contributions to 'a sense of place' not only for people who live nearby or visit, but also for others who may never see them at first hand, but value the fact that they exist. Unfortunately, there are no global lists of coastal locations protected mainly for traditional, spiritual or cultural reasons. Therefore the Ocean Health Index uses lists of places protected for ecological, historical or other reasons, with the assumption that they also represent some of the values that are expressed in the concept of Lasting Special Places.  
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.

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).  

How Was It Measured?

Since most countries have not identified lasting special places on the basis or traditional, spiritual or cultural values, the Ocean Health Index uses two proxies: (1) Coastal Marine Protected Areas within 3 nautical miles of the shore; and (2) Land Protected Areas within a 1-km wide strip parallel to the shore. The areas (km2) of all such places were obtained from the World Database on Protected Areas' Protected Planet Web site, using the most recent version of the database available when annual scores are computed. Calculations for trend presume that there is a 3-year lag in reporting new protected areas to the database.  

The Protected Planet database is produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and prepared by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. It 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 areas included in 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/Protected Planet includes both proposed and designated protected areas, but only those with ‘designated’ status were included in the Ocean Health Index. 

The reference point is for all regions to have 30% of the area from 3 nautical miles offshore to 1 km inland in protected status.  

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.

Protected Planet

Protected Planet, formerly known as the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is the global database for protected areas gathered from national governments, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and many others.  It is run by the UN Environment Program's World Conservation Monitoring Center and the IUCN Commission on Protected Areas.


Beltrán, J. (ed.) (2000). Indigenous and Traditional Peoples and Protected Areas: Principles, Guidelines and Case Studies. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK and WWF International, Gland, Switzerland. xi + 133pp. [Pre-publication]

Coad L., N.D. Burgess, B. Bomhard and C. Besancon. (2009). Progress on the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2010 and 2012 Targets for Protected Area Coverage. A technical report for the IUCN international workshop “Looking to the Future of the CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas”, Jeju Island, Republic of Korea, 14-17 September 2009. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK. 

McLeod, K. and H. Leslie (eds.) (2009). Ecosystem-based Management for the Oceans. Island Press. Washington, D.C. 392 pp.  

Toropova, C., I. Meliane, D. Laffoley, E. Matthews and M. Spalding (eds.) (2010). Global Ocean Protection: Present Status and Future Possibilities. Brest, France: Agence des aires marines protégées, Gland, Switzerland, Washington, DC and New York, USA: IUCN WCPA, Cambridge, UK : UNEP-WCMC, Arlington, USA: TNC, Tokyo, Japan: UNU, New York, USA: WCS. 96pp. 

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