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A protected areas calling card

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 23:16 authored by Thomas BrooksThomas Brooks

The Fifth World Parks Congress, organized by the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Durban in 2003, was important in many respects. It launched the comprehensive World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) and marked the emergence of global consensus on the importance of protected areas. More ominously, analyses matching the WDPA with species and habitat data revealed the great shortfall in current biodiversity representation in protected areas. Following on from Durban, the Seventh Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Kuala Lumpur in 2004, adopted a welcome and long-overdue Programme of Work on Protected Areas, to support the establishment of comprehensive protected area systems.

It is in this context that the World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) of the United Nations Environment Program (which is one of the two organizations mandated to maintain the WDPA, the other being the WCPA) has produced The World's Protected Areas ‘to present, in one volume, a comprehensive overview of the world's protected areas.’ The book is targeted at students and professionals. The first 7 chapters are thematically organized, reviewing protected area definitions, relationships with biodiversity, threats, landscape conservation, management, marine conservation and prospects. These are followed by 15 chapters comprising short regional protected area assessments. The book is illustrated by over 100 photographs, mostly rather small, but still attractive.

The thematic chapters are a mixed bag. The first chapter provides a valuable history of protected areas, although the 1992 definition of protected areas is now outdated by new text adopted by the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona in 2008. The second chapter focuses on habitat coverage by protected areas. This is useful, but does not reflect the shortfalls of protected area coverage of biodiversity as discussed in Durban, and so misses the opportunity to highlight the subsequent advances in supporting national gap analyses, now underway in >170 countries. While the section on marine protected areas is expanded on in Chapter 6, freshwater, despite holding arguably the world's most threatened biodiversity, unfortunately receives no such special attention.

Perhaps the strangest section is the manual-like Chapter 5, which gives bland advice that ‘people are needed to implement an organization's primary mission’ and ‘bills need to be paid’ interspersed with management flow diagrams. That said, Box 5.1 on rangers, the unsung heroes of protected areas, is excellent. My favorite part of the book is Chapter 7, which provides some thoughtful discussion of the progress (and lack thereof) toward protected area targets, and of protected areas in the context of poverty alleviation, climate change and financing. Two important topics disappointingly absent here, however, are protected area effectiveness, which has received considerable attention over the past decade, and the crucial importance of tropical forest protected areas in climate change mitigation through reducing carbon emissions from deforestation.

I have three other moans. First, author attribution. Names of ‘contributors’ (118 of whom are noted at the beginning of the book) are listed against each chapter, but for the first five of the thematic chapters it is not at all clear what they contributed. Were they authors? Data providers? Reviewers? Second, the maps in the regional reviews, arguably one of the most important contributions of the book, are marred by carpets of dots, crosses and squares, undefined in the legend (itself hidden on p. xii). Perhaps these represent protected areas for which no boundary shapefiles are recorded in the WDPA, perhaps something else; if it is the former, then it is a shame that these dots were not at least scaled to protected area size. And third, referencing. A cursory glance at the bibliography reveals: eight references listed twice; ‘Z’ oddly placed after ‘M’; inconsistent date ordering; and inconsistent use of parentheses. Not catastrophic, but sloppiness unworthy of the publishers of the book.

Overall, I have to say that I am left slightly baffled by this book, particularly as to how it fits into the existing protected area literature. It is not really a coffee table book, as it is too text heavy to grace any but the most staid coffee table. Neither is it an authoritative reference manual, for which the MacKinnon reviews remain the benchmark. However, this ambiguity does not trouble me unduly: what the book does very well is to serve as a calling card for the role of the WCMC in maintaining the WDPA. This role is an essential one if the Programme of Work on Protected Areas is to be implemented successfully and, in this light, I recommend The World's Protected Areas heartily.


Publication title

Trends in Ecology and Evolution










School of Geography, Planning and Spatial Sciences


Elsevier Science London

Place of publication

84 Theobalds Rd, London, England, Wc1X 8Rr

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The definitive version is available at

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Expanding knowledge in the environmental sciences

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