[Archived] World Database on Protected Areas

Legally protected areas, according to various designations (e.g., national parks, state reserves, and wildlife reserves), which are managed to achieve conservation objectives

  • Source: UNEP-WCMC/IUCN

This dataset has been archived, and we will no longer be updating or maintaining it. We recommend using this dataset as a replacement.

The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is the most comprehensive global spatial data set on marine and terrestrial protected areas available. Protected area data are provided via Protected Planet, the online interface for the WDPA. The WDPA is a joint initiative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UN Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) to compile spatially referenced information about protected areas. The data are provided as shapefiles and updated monthly.

Not all protected areas receive the same degree of protection. While some have strict guidelines designed to preserve intact ecosystems, others allow for sustainable land use, often including limited resource extraction. In addition, not all countries use the same terminology when designating a protected area. Universal management categories are designated by the IUCN that stipulate the level of protection for most protected areas. These categories are defined as follows:

(Ia) Strict Nature Reserves: protected areas designed to preserve biodiversity and all geological features. Limited human use (e.g., scientific study, education) is allowed and carefully monitored. Strict nature reserves are often used to understand the impact of indirect human disturbance (e.g., burning fossil fuels) because of the area’s high level of preservation.

(Ib) Wilderness Areas: protected areas managed to preserve ecosystem processes with limited human use. Wilderness areas cannot contain modern infrastructure (e.g., a visitor’s center), but they allow for local indigenous groups to maintain subsistence lifestyles. These areas are often established to restore disturbed environments.

(II) National Parks: protected areas designed to preserve large-scale ecosystems and support human visitation. With conservation as a priority, these areas allow infrastructure and contribute to the local economy by providing opportunities for environmental educational and recreation.

(III) National Monuments or Features: areas established to protect a specific natural feature (e.g., cave, grove) or human-made monument with significant historical, spiritual, or environmental importance and the immediate surroundings. Accordingly, natural monuments or features are typically smaller in area and have high human impact resulting from visitor traffic.

(IV) Habitat and Species Management Areas: areas designed to conserve specific wildlife populations and/or habitats. Habitat and species management areas often exist within a larger ecosystem or protected area and are carefully managed (e.g., through hunting abatement or habitat restoration) to conserve a target species or habitat.

(V) Protected Landscapes and Seascapes: protected areas with ecological, biological, or cultural importance that have been shaped by human use of the landscape. Protected landscapes and seascapes typically cover entire bodies of land or ocean and allow for a number of for-profit activities (e.g., ecotourism) in accordance with the region’s management plan.

(VI) Protected Areas with Sustainable Use of Natural Resources: areas designed to manage natural resources and uphold the livelihoods of surrounding communities. These regions have a low level of human occupation, small-scale developments (i.e., not industrial), and part of the landscape in its natural condition.

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Formal name

World Database on Protected Areas


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.

Suggested citation

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


United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

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