Global protected area dynamics – new ways to measure change

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Protected areas are a key conservation strategy and play a major role in addressing global environmental challenges. Recognising this, countries have committed to increasing global protected area coverage to at least 17% on land and 10% for marine by 2020.

The most widely used tool to track progress on these commitments is the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). Periodic assessments of the world’s protected area estate show steady growth over the last two decades. But the current method, which uses only the latest version of the WDPA, does not show the true dynamic nature of protected areas over time or provide information on sites removed from the database.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute worked with the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre and other partners on a project which aimed to understand and document these dynamics. A paper resulting from the project recently published in Conservation Biology describes a new approach to assessing protected area change over time. It looked at 12 versions of the WDPA from 2004 to 2016 to quantify area added and removed from the WDPA annually.

The results show that reporting continual protected area growth and decline is overly simplistic. This is because growth is almost entirely marine and some areas are removed but re-protected in later years. The study shows that on average 2.5 million km2 are added to the WDPA annually and 1.1 million km2 removed.

In conjunction with the established Protected Area Downgrading Downsizing and Degazettement (PADDD) research, this new ‘temporal’ WDPA is important in helping to set and update global targets. At the local, national and regional level, it can help protected area managers and policymakers make more informed decisions on protected area zoning, planning and funding.