6. Protected Areas: For Life's Sake

In 2003, the conservation world gathered in Durban for the Vth IUCN World Parks Congress and together adopted the Durban Accord as a new paradigm for the future (IUCN, 2003). The Accord recognized the critical role of protected areas (PAs) both in supporting biodiversity conservation as well as efforts to reduce poverty, support economic development, and promote peace. It celebrated the threefold increase in the number of protected areas in the previous 20 years.

However, the Accord also raised concerns. While 11.5% of the Earth was under some form of conservation, the existing network was still not representative of the full scope of biodiversity – especially for the marine realm. The costs and benefits of protected areas were not equitably allocated and finance for these valuable areas was woefully inadequate. As a result, management of many sites was compromised to the point that “many parks exist more on paper than in practice”. The historic role of local communities, indigenous and mobile peoples in conserving biodiversity and the value of protected areas to these groups were seldom acknowledged or included in planning and implementation. Change, especially climate change, was compounding existing challenges to the world's protected areas.

The successes and concerns raised in the Durban Accord are certainly still valid. For example, 13 of the 199 natural World Heritage sites are listed as “in danger”, including important biodiversity sites such as the Galapagos, Manas National Park in India and five national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Causes include civil conflict and impacts of tourism and invasive species (UNESCO, 2009, figures as of May 2009). The number of World Heritage Sites that are critically threatened is also not fully represented by the In Danger List of UNESCO (Badman et al., 2009).

Discussions at Barcelona explored progress on many of these issues and are included in several chapters throughout this volume. The role of local people and protected areas is included in Chapter 3, climate change and protected areas in Chapter 5, protected areas, conflict and peace parks in Chapter 9, and marine protected areas in Chapter 17. Here, the challenges of representativeness, management effectiveness, and finance, for protected areas are explored further.


Even with 11.5% of the land designated as protected areas, significant gaps still remain. Rodrigues et al. (2004) pointed out the challenges of using global aggregate targets as a means to establish representative protected area networks and identified several gaps in the existing network. They reported that of the species considered, at least 12% are not represented in any protected area, and that other taxa with high levels of endemism, such as plants and insects, are even less well represented, given the tendency for sets of species with smaller range sizes to have higher proportions of “gap species”.

Tools are needed to help identify gaps in more detail and raise awareness of the issues. One important effort in that regard was the launch of the 2008 World Database of Protected Areas (the 2009 update is now available – www.wdpa.org ), a significantly improved online tool which allows users to zoom in, fly over and explore over 100,000 national parks.

Another step in that direction has been the launch of Google Ocean, a joint effort of IUCN, Google, and other partners focusing on the existing marine protected area network (http://earth.google.com/ocean/). Other tools available include the development of guidelines to support identification, prioritization and gap analysis of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), sites of global significance for biodiversity conservation, identified using globally standard criteria and thresholds (Eken et al., 2004). Armed with the knowledge of KBAs, protected area managers can then undertake gap analyses and work towards more comprehensive networks of protected areas to conserve biodiversity (Langhammer et al., 2007).

Each country should prepare its own review of its protected area system, to ensure that all key habitats and natural features are protected under the appropriate management category. Particular attention needs to be given to marine protected areas (MPAs) (Chapter 17). Today's 5,000 MPAs cover over 2.35 million square kilometres, but this is only 1.6% of the total marine area within Exclusive Economic Zones. IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and Marine Programme are working with many other partners to protect 10–30% of marine habitats by 2012 (Laffoley, 2008).


Management effectiveness issues discussed in Barcelona included available tools and guidelines, engagement of local communities, invasive species, and the need for a landscape-scale approach to protected area management.

Since Durban, WCPA has invested considerable effort in developing tools and guidelines in support of improving management effectiveness of the existing network of protected areas. Hockings et al. (2006) produced a framework for evaluating effectiveness. In Barcelona, the IUCN Protected Areas Categories Guidelines (Dudley, 2008) were launched, emphasizing that while the priority objective for all protected areas is protecting nature, protected areas have other, important objectives aimed at enhancing the livelihoods of people.

The needs of people living in and around protected areas need to be given much more careful consideration. Redford and Fearn (2007) examine trade-offs, conflicts, flows of benefits and costs, legal issues, and the numerous other dimensions that need to be addressed as protected area management becomes more democratic. Coad et al. (2008), who also reviewed costs and benefits of protected areas to local communities, reported that livelihood impacts of protected areas vary with protected area status, management strategies, and community involvement in governance. Major costs to livelihoods were associated with protected areas with top-down management structures (generally associated with IUCN Management Categories I-II) or in protected areas where management and institutional capacity are lacking and issues of governance and tenure are not resolved. On the other hand, community management schemes, and protected area management allowing sustainable use of resources (more often associated with IUCN Management Categories V-VI) can provide tangible benefits. Borrini-Feyerabend et al. (2004) discuss mechanisms to enhance conservation and equity of local and indigenous communities in protected areas.

“In virtually all parts of the world, a major biological threat to protected areas is invasion of non-native species.”

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), many governments and conservation organizations are recognizing the rights, skills, and knowledge of local and indigenous peoples, and giving special attention and respect to sacred natural sites. Such cultural dimensions of protected areas deserve greater attention in the coming years and inclusion in the consideration of representativeness for those protected areas. IUCN and UNESCO have developed Sacred Natural Sites Guidelines for Protected Area Managers, which recognize the importance of cultural and spiritual values in nature conservation and provide practical guidance on the management of these values in protected areas (Wild and McLeod, 2008). IUCN Members reinforced the importance of sacred sites in protected areas in Resolution WCC 4.038.

In virtually all parts of the world, a major biological threat to protected areas is invasion of non-native species, ranging from goats on Galapagos to water hyacinth in the African Great Lakes. Some protected area managers have even intentionally introduced invasive alien species into their parks, such as trout into some of the mountain protected areas in the United States, in the belief that this would make the streams more attractive to visitors even if some native species were threatened. Much greater effort needs to be given to preventing non-native species from invading protected areas, eradicating them as soon as possible if they invade, and minimizing their impacts if they nonetheless become established (McNeely et al., 2001). In addition, strategies to eradicate invasive species in protected areas should, as much as possible, include risk management for indirect side effects (Bergstrom et al., 2009).

Under any realistic scenario of the future, protected areas by themselves will be insufficient for actually conserving the planet's biodiversity unless the land and waters outside the protected area system are managed in ways that are consistent with the conservation objectives of protected areas. Protected areas can no longer be islands of natural habitats in a sea of incompatible land uses, much less fortresses against local human interests. On the contrary, protected areas need to be seen as parts of regional landscapes, connected by habitat corridors that expand the effective territory of wide-ranging species and contribute ecosystem services to local people and support adaptation to changing conditions. To achieve this, successful conservation will require working at a larger scale, including at landscape and seascape levels, since the challenges facing protected areas are too complex and involve too many different interest groups to be solved at the level of individual sites.

IUCN Members have recognized the need for connectivity in Resolution 4.062, calling for increased attention to connectivity in large-scale conservation initiatives including linking protected areas into the broader landscape.

Examples of such a landscape approach include the Yellowstone to Yukon Corridor, the MesoAmerican Biological Corridor, Europe's Green Belt, and the Terai Arc in India and Nepal. Addressing such issues will be easier if public opinion is strongly supportive of protected areas, and because more people will live in cities, this will require innovative ways of reaching the urbanized population.

In support of management effectiveness, WCPA has now produced some 16 Best Practice Guidelines, including (in addition to those already mentioned) issues such as guidelines for management planning (Thomas and Middleton, 2003) and transboundary protected areas (Sandwith et al., 2001). The full list is available at http://www.iucn.org/about/union/commissions/wcpa/wcpa_puball/wcpa_bpg/. Training is becoming accessible through internet tools such as Protected Areas Learning Network (PALNet) and activities supported by IUCN's Members and partners.


Although substantial funding is available for protected areas, it has not been enough to keep up with their expansion in recent years (Emerton et al., 2006). Much protected area finance has been short term and focused on capital investment, with very limited support for sustaining protected areas structures and institutions over time. This has left many protected areas under-funded and likely to remain so under current conditions. Bruner et al. (2004) estimated that the shortfall in funding for managing existing protected areas in developing countries was approximately US$ 1.3 billion, wryly noting that this amount represents 2% of what Americans spend on soft drinks annually (Jacobsen, 2004). Other estimates of the protected areas funding gap are much higher (e.g. up to US$ 45 billion per year over 30 years to secure and expand both terrestrial and marine protected areas, estimated by Balmford et al., 2002). Whatever the figure, it is clear that achieving sustainable finance will require building capacity within the protected areas community for financial and business planning as well as supportive policy and market conditions.

As already highlighted in the Durban Accord, if protected areas are to survive in the face of increasing demands, they will need significant financial support. This should not always be difficult, in view of the benefits protected areas generate. For example, in 2003, some 266 million people visited the US National Parks and spent an estimated US$ 10 billion during their visits. Tourism around the National Parks generated US$ 4.5 billion in wages, salaries, and benefits, and supported 267,000 jobs. Ensuring that protected areas receive a fair share of the benefits they generate is a challenge that deserves creative thinking, but it is likely to be most successful when based increasingly on the principle of user pays, including increased park entry fees or higher concession fees for tourism operators. In addition, governments may need to embrace the user pays concept more enthusiastically, enabling protected areas to retain more of the income they generate. For example, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania generates entrance fees amounting to about US$ 6 million per year, sufficient to support an appropriate level of management.

Nevertheless, some protected areas are unlikely to be able to generate sufficient income on their own, as they have limited attraction on their own. They will therefore continue to depend on public funding or other innovative ways of being compensated for the ecosystem services they provide to society at large. Protected areas need to see themselves as service providers to society, providing both income-generating (recreation, tourism, ecosystem functions) and non-income generating (biodiversity conservation, education, cultural values) services.

With respect to the cultural services, governments should view investments in protected areas in the same way as investment in education and the arts – a key means to support society and the creativity and values that underpin it.


The coming years will provide important opportunities for protected areas in terms of governance and engaging youth in protected areas work.

In terms of international environmental governance, the structure of international conventions – including the CBD, the World Heritage Convention, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – in supporting conservation through protected areas is already proving its value, but clearly much more can be done, including support for governance of protected areas in the open seas, transboundary protected areas, and improved cooperation in information exchange and capacity building (IUCN, 2001). The role of the World Heritage Convention, while a highly successful conservation mechanism covering 8% by area of the global protected areas estate, could be enhanced by more recognition and support for its implementation, especially focused on increased action to tackle the conservation challenges facing the sites listed by UNESCO (IUCN, 2009b).

In 2010, Parties to the CBD will review the agreed programme of work for protected areas agreed in 2004 (CBD, 2004b) and should look to ensure greater synergy across the many instruments relevant to protected areas. CBD Parties will also be adopting a new Strategic Plan and, potentially, a post-2010 framework for biodiversity conservation into which the critical roles of protected areas should be integrated.

As pointed out in a very direct comment from the youth representative at the Vth World Parks Congress, the future of protected areas is in the hands of today's young people. WCPA is working hard to engage young people in protected areas and actions taken include establishing, jointly with the International Ranger Federation, the Young Conservationist Award, given annually to an outstanding young person for his/her work in protected areas/conservation and promoting membership of youth in the Commission through setting a 30% target for those under 35 by 2012.

In conclusion, conservation of biodiversity through protected areas can be a significant contribution to building a just, equitable and sustainable relationship between people and the rest of nature. However, this goal faces several challenges. To continue the strong tradition of protected areas' contributions to conservation, IUCN must continue to support efforts to ensure a fully representative system of protected areas is in place, effective management of those areas and adequate finance to implement that management. In addition, the opportunities provided by protected areas as mechanisms to support poverty reduction (Scherl et al., 2004) and climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts should be promoted and implemented.

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