Increased growth of Protected Areas in 2017


In the 12th and final update of the World Database on Protected Areas for 2017 there were over 236,200 records covering a combined area of just over 45 million km2; with 25 million km2 of our Oceans and 20 million km2 of our land being covered by protected areas. This is an increase of nearly 4,000 sites and nearly 7 million km2 from the same time last year. Continuing the trend from 2016 the major additions have been in the marine realm, with a number of very large sites being added; notably the the worlds largest and second largest protected areas, the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area at over 2 million km2 and Marae Moana Marine Park with an area just under 2 million km2.

Table 1. Protected area change between December 2016 and December 2017


Protected Area
Coverage (%)

Protected Area
Coverage (%)

Change in protected
area coverage (km2)

December 2016

December 2017





Marine- National Waters




Marine- High Seas









Marine protected areas now account for 6.96% of the global ocean which equates to over 25 million km2. In December 2016 terrestrial protected areas accounted for over half of the global area protected, whereas now marine protected areas comprise 55% of the area protected.

The Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area was designated this year and is now the largest protected area in the world. This is a major step forward in the push for marine protected areas to be designated in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area alone accounts for 58% of the area protected in the high seas; a very important part of the global ocean which is not currently widely protected.

Within national waters, countries have significantly increased their marine protected area network. The Cook Islands have designated the majority of their national waters as a protected areas via the Marae Moana National Park, Gabon has added 28 marine protected areas this year, and the UK has added 6 new marine protected areas under the EU Habitats Directive, including several that protect a large portion of North-western Scotland's coastline.


A total of 15% of our land is now covered by protected areas, an area amounting to over 20 million km2 an increase of over 1/4 million km2 in the last 12 months.

Although there have been more terrestrial than marine protected areas added in 2017, they comprise a smaller area. The largest terrestrial site added in 2017 was Bassin de la Lufira in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 43,684km2.

Table 2. The three largest terrestrial protected areas added in 2017 were as follows:



Area (km2)


Bassin de la Lufira

Ramsar Site, Wetland of International Importance


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Qinghai Hoh Xil

World Heritage Site



Landscapes of Dauria

World Heritage Site


Mongolia; Russia

The three largest sites for 2017 were all designated under international obligations and conventions (Ramsar Site, Wetland of International Importance and World Heritage Site). Some of these sites overlap with previously existing sites, often expanding the area to account for the biodiversity they have been designated to protect. For this reason, the total area they encompass isn't necessarily all newly protected, it is just newly designated under differing supplementary criteria.

Guinea, Australia and Saudi Arabia all significantly increased their protected area coverage (designated and proposed) since December 2016, but they did not all add new sites in order to do this. Some updated the accuracy of the data for existing sites, showing that accurate data reporting can make a big difference to protected areas coverage statistics. Guinea did not increase their number of terrestrial protected areas in 2017, but they significantly increased their area coverage by 14% (14,360km2) through updating 4 points to polygons, Australia has added 522 terrestrial sites since Dec 2016, increasing their area coverage by 10% (149,901km2), of these newly added sites, 38% are proposed and are expected to be officially designated in 2018, while Saudi Arabia in its first update in 10 years, has actually reduced the number of sites in the WDPA by 12%, but has increased area coverage by 34% (46,498km2).

Progress towards Aichi Target 11

We are heading in a positive direction to meet Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, and with continued regular updates from all countries, there is a chance we could meet the marine and the terrestrial targets. The delay between designation and reporting means that by 2020 protected areas that have already been designated, may still not be in the WDPA. Protected area data is being reported more and more accurately, and good cooperation from reporting bodies has helped to achieve these outcomes.

Looking beyond the trend

While we see a trend of an annual increase in both the number and area covered by protected areas, it is worth highlighting that the WDPA is a dynamic data set. Throughout the 12 different versions produced each year there are additions and removals of sites which result in changes in area. Between years there can be considerable difference in the number of sites added and removed. A review of the updates to the WDPA since the end of 2013 shows how dynamic the data set is in terms of the number of sites added and removed, with some years experiencing significant changes.

There a number of reasons to explain the flux in the data; in some years such as in 2014 there have been a large number of updates by countries, which was in part driven by a Convention on Biological Diversity notification to submit data in preparation of the 14th edition of the UN List of Protected Areas and the 2014 Protected Planet Report. In other years there has been a focus on improving the quality of the data from specific countries or for specific data sets such as the recent work in conjunction with the Ramsar Secretariat to enhance the quality of the Ramsar sites in the WDPA. During 2018 we will be exploring the different reasons for the removal of sites and what these mean in terms of the overall area covered by protected areas in a country. This work will build upon the recently published work by the Protected Planet team; "Dynamics in the global protected- area estate since 2004" (Lewis et al 2017).

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