News > Press releases > Planet's List of Prote ...

Press releases

Planet's List of Protected Areas Tops 100,000 Mark

Crucial progress is being made towards conserving the world's most spectacular habitats and wildlife, a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the IUCN-World Conservation Union shows.

United Nations Outlines Over a Century of Success and Failure in Conserving World's Natural Heritage

Durban, South Africa, 9 September 2003 - Crucial progress is being made towards conserving the world's most spectacular habitats and wildlife, a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the IUCN-World Conservation Union shows.

More than 100,000 protected areas, some 90 per cent of which have been listed over the past 40 years, have been established across the developed and developing world.

Between a ten and thirty per cent of some of the planet's vital natural features such as the Amazonian rainforests, the Arctic tundra and the tropical savannah grasslands are now held in these protected areas.

However, progress towards conserving other biologically and ecologically important landscapes is proving more sluggish

Less than 10 percent of the world's large lakes are protected, and temperate grasslands typical of Central Asia and the North American prairies, are similarly poorly protected.

The rate at which the planet's marine world is gaining protection causes even greater concern. Less than 0.5 per cent of the world's seas and oceans are within protected areas.

This is despite the importance of fisheries and habitats such as coral reefs as sources of protein and employment for billions of people across the developed and developing world.

Indeed, the findings suggest that big efforts will be needed to achieve a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012, a key agreement made at last year's World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

These are just some of the findings from the 2003 United Nations List of Protected Areas released today at the Vth IUCN World Parks Congress taking place in Durban, South Africa.

The report, the most comprehensive ever, has been compiled by UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in Cambridge, United Kingdom, in collaboration with the IUCN-World Conservation Union and its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

It lists World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and other protected areas ranging from the vast Greenland National Park, which at over 97 million hectares is the globe's biggest, to, for the first time, thousands of sites smaller than ten square kilometres, many of which are in private hands.

A first draft of a related publication entitled State of the World's Protected Areas, which is also being released at the Congress for comment, shows that much of the growth has occurred in the last half of the 20th Century.

Between 1872, when Yellowstone National Park was established in the United States, and the early 1960s, some 10,000 protected areas were created. The total now stands at over 100,000.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: "The global environment movement and the United Nations can be justifiably proud of the growth in protected areas. Since 1962, the year of the first World Parks Congress, the number of such sites has really mushroomed, rising from an area of some two million square kilometres to over 18 million square kilometres today."

"There are numerous challenges facing the fifth Congress. We need to continue the good work on the land and tackle the big gaps at sea. We also need to work out how to extend the good management and local, national and regional benefits arising from protected areas to the wider world," he said.

"Put simply, we cannot pat ourselves on the backs if we end up with islands of well- protected wildlife, habitats and ecosystems in a sea of environmental degradation. So I wholeheartedly endorse the goals of this Congress and its theme of Benefits Beyond Boundaries," added Mr Toepfer.

Achim Steiner, Director General of IUCN - The World Conservation Union, said: "Protected areas are not a concept unique to any particular region, and these areas are today a truly global tool to ensure the sustainability of our common heritage. Since the Earth Summit in Rio, developing country governments have demonstrated extraordinary commitment and over 40% of protected area sites are today found in developing countries."

"Although many park managers are taking on additional responsibilities for the social and economic welfare of neighbouring communities, the equitable sharing of benefits and costs of protected areas remains a challenge. Strategies to address this challenge are at the core of many discussions here in Durban," he said.

Mark Collins, Director of UNEP-WCMC, said: "Another challenge is to discover how well these more than 100,000 areas are being managed.  While we are confident that many are indeed being adequately cared for, a great deal more data needs to be collected and assessed".

He said the launch of the draft of the 2003 State of the World's Protected Areas for was aimed at "concentrating minds" and mobilizing the international community including the World Database and Protected Areas Consortium.

The final report will be published next year in Malaysia at the 7th Committee of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

" I believe this final report will greatly advance our understanding and help guide efforts towards ensuring that all protected areas are managed in a way that benefits people and wildlife," said Mr Collins.

Stuart Chape, the lead author of the UN List, said: "It may seem as if protected areas are a historically recent phenomenon. However, human enthusiasm to protect and conserve special resource areas and "sacred" sites goes back millennia. In 252 BC the Emperor Asoka of India set up protected areas for mammals, birds, fish and forests-  the earliest recorded examples of government-backed protection".

In some ways we are seeing history coming full circle, re-discovering our stewardship of the Earth and the need to manage and respect our natural resources in a way that was first understood thousands of years ago - and indeed has continued to be understood by many cultures around the world," he said.

" Societies living in small island environments, such as those scattered across the vast area of the Pacific, often set aside strictly protected areas to conserve resources. We are all like those island societies - the phrase 'island Earth' is no longer a poetic metaphor, it describes the hard reality that faces humankind, as it did historically for many societies who had to manage their populations and natural resources in a range of physically limiting environments. We need to apply the lessons that have been learned," said Mr Chape.

Highlights of the 2003 United Nations List of Protected Areas

The Extent of Protected Areas
The report lists 102,102 sites covering an area of 18.8 million square kilometres of which 17 million square kilometres, representing 11.5 percent of the Earth's land surface, is terrestrial.

The area of the world's protected areas is now far bigger than the land surface of India and China .  It is also larger than the area of land under permanent, arable, crops.

What is Currently Protected
The report lists 14 so-called land or terrestrial "biomes". Biomes are defined as "the world's major communities, classified according to the predominant vegetation and characterized by adaptations of organisms to that particular environment".

Essentially they are locations, areas or regions where a certain type of habitat, for example tropical humid forests, dominates.

The IVth IUCN World Parks Congress in 1992 set a target calling for at least 10 percent of each of these to be protected.

Currently, the target for nine out of the 14 has been met including tropical humid forests of which those found in , of which Amazonia is typical. Over 23 percent of this "biome" is protected.

Others where the target has been met or exceeded include warm and semi-deserts such as the Sahara, over 10 percent; tropical grassland savannahs common in Africa, over 15 percent and evergreen sclerophyllous forests of which Australia's natural eucalyptus woodlands are an example, over 10 percent.

Nearly 17 percent of subtropical and temperate rainforests, such as those found in a number of continents, and close to 30 percent of "mixed island systems" characteristic of those found in Indonesia, have protected area status.

The target has not been met for five out of the 14 land-based "biomes". These are lake systems, just over one and-a-half percent; temperate grasslands, just over four and-a-half percent and cold-winter deserts of which the Gobi is typical, under eight percent.

Under eight percent of temperate broad-leaf forests typical of North America and northern Europe and less than nine percent of temperate needle-leaf forests and woodlands, typical examples of which might be the Caledonian forests of Scotland and Scandinavia, have so far secured protected area status.

Where are They?
Europe leads the way in terms of the numbers of protected areas with over 43,000 listed followed by North Eurasia, nearly 18,000; North America, over 13,000 and Australia and New Zealand with close to 9,000. The Pacific, with around 320, has the fewest. There are nearly 4,390 in Eastern and Southern Africa with a further 2,600 in Western and Central Africa.

However, in terms of size, it is Central America and South America which have the largest protected areas estates, covering covering almost 25 percent of each of these regions. North America, also does well with 4.5 million square kilometres or just over 18 percent of the region's land surface.

Protected areas cover 1.6 million square kilometres or over 14.5 percent of Eastern and Southern Africa and over 1.1 million square kilometres or over 10.5 percent of land in Western and Central Africa.

The Pacific has over 20,000 square kilometres of protected areas representing about 1.5 percent of its land area.

The report lists an estimated 4,116 marine protected areas covering over 1.6 million square kilometres. However, this represents less than 0.5 percent of the seas and oceans.

Most of these sites, including for example Australia's Great Barrier Reef, have been designated since the 1970s. Australia and New Zealand have the largest area of marine protection, covering over 420,000 sq km. Although Europe has the largest number of marine protected areas, over 800, these are small and many offer only limited levels of protection. The coastlines of Southern and Eastern Africa and of South Asia are some of the least protected, making the Indian Ocean, with its wealth of coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangrove forests, perhaps the most poorly protected ocean.

The Ten Largest Protected Areas
Greenland's 97.2 million hectare National Park is the world's biggest followed by the 64 million hectare Ar-Rub'al-Khali wildlife management area in Saudi Arabia.

The third biggest is the 34.5 million hectare Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia followed by the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands' coral reef ecosystem reserve of the United States at over 34 million hectares.

The fifth largest is the more than 32 million hectare Amazonia forest reserve in Colombia and the sixth, the Qiang Tang nature reserve in China, almost 25 million hectares.

The seventh biggest is the Cape Churchill wildlife management area in northern Canada covering just under 14 million hectares followed by the Northern Wildlife Management Zone in Saudi Arabia, 10 million hectares.

This is followed by the Alto Orinoco-Casiquiare biosphere reserve in Venezuela and Bolivia, over eight million hectares and the Valo do Javari indigenous area in Brazil, again at just over eight million hectares.

Notes to Editors
The 2003 United List of Protected Areas is available from the IUCN Publications Services Unit, 219c Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, United Kingdom, CB3 0DL or from the web site 

Details of the report including downloadable images will be available for journalists and news media at and following the press conference in Durban on 9 September 2003

For More Information Please Contact
Eric Falt, UNEP Spokesperson and Director of Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, E-mail: or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 254 733 632755,E-mail:

Xenya Cherny, IUCN Communications; Tel: +41 79 729 0924; Mobile in South Africa: +27 XX XXXXXXX; E-mail:



Tuesday 09 Sep 2003
All (9)
2016 (9)