Skip to main content

Protected Areas

Protected areas have long played a crucial role in protecting natural landscapes and wildlife, and many consider them to be one of the most effective tools in protecting biodiversity. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) officially defines a protected area as ' a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values'. Protected areas also play a key role in preserving the benefits that nature brings to people, often referred to as 'ecosystem services'. They come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from strict nature reserves where only scientific research is permitted, to areas that allow natural resources to be used. The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is the most comprehensive global database of marine and terrestrial protected areas.

RCoE Action:

IUCN and UNEP-WCMC. 2017. "The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA)." April. Cambridge, UK: UNEP-WCMC. Accessed through Resource Watch, (date).


Protected area boundaries come from a variety of sources, with varying accuracy, up-to-dateness, and resolution. Data for some countries may be imprecise, miss some protected areas, or include boundaries that have since been canceled. Protected area designations, such as "national park," can be applied differently in different countries and may be associated with different IUCN categories. Only areas that meet the IUCN definition of protected area are collected by the WDPA, and thus the data may differ from national-level data on protected areas. Protected areas with no boundary data are displayed as boxes that represent the reported protected area size. The box is centered on a single point location, and the borders do not indicate the real boundary of the protected area.

Select for mapping