Growth in Protected Areas Slows

Margarita Yatsevich | May 07, 2009

The areas of the world that are officially protected—national parks and the like—grew by some 26 percent between 1997 and 2007, roughly one third as fast as during the preceding 10 years, when the rate topped 75 percent.1 (See Figure 1.) In total, land-based and sea-based protected areas occupy 21.8 million square kilometers, or 4.27 percent of Earth’s surface.2

Globally, 12.4 percent of terrestrial land and territorial waters (that is, water up to 12 nautical miles from shore) are devoted to protection.3 Protected areas are managed for a broad range of purposes: some are managed mainly for recreation or use of natural resources, while others have a clear conservation goal and allow only scientific pursuits.4 The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 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.”5 IUCN divides protected areas into seven classifications, based on their management objectives, each with a different level of protection so that different needs are addressed accordingly. (See Table 1.) Between 1872 and 2007, governments around the world designated nearly 114,000 terrestrial and marine sites.6

Countries vary greatly in the number, size, and share of protected areas they establish. Table 2 shows the top five countries in each of these categories.7

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