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  • Review Article
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Sixty years of tracking conservation progress using the World Database on Protected Areas


The world’s protected area network is constantly changing, and the dynamics of this network are tracked using the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). This database evolved from a list of protected areas first mandated by the United Nations in 1959, and it now informs the key indicators that track progress toward area-based conservation targets. In this capacity, the WDPA illuminates the role of protected areas in advancing a range of international objectives and agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite ongoing challenges in maintaining such a complex global dataset, the WDPA is continuously improving and taking advantage of new technology, making it widely applicable to diverse users, including those in sectors far from its original intended audience. In the future, the WDPA will expand to include areas that contribute to conservation and sustainable use outside of formal protected areas, and will increasingly link to other key global datasets. These innovations in the way the WDPA is managed and used will deliver vital knowledge to support a sustainable future for biodiversity and people globally.

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Fig. 1: Map of the world, showing the locations of protected areas on land and in the ocean, based on spatial data derived from the WDPA43.
Fig. 2: Quality improvements in the WDPA over time.
Fig. 3: Protected areas of Namibia.
Fig. 4: Linkages between elements of the Protected Planet initiative.

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Data availability

The World Database on Protected Areas is available for download from, subject to terms and conditions available at The other data that support this review are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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The authors would like to express their gratitude to the numerous supporters and funders of the WDPA, and the many governments and other data providers whose collaboration makes the WDPA possible. We would also like to thank L. Ruzowitzky and J. Harrison for their advice on the content of this paper. Finally, we would like to thank all the colleagues, past and present, who have contributed to the development and maintenance of the WDPA.

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Authors and Affiliations



This paper has been written by a team of scientists directly involved in the management of the WDPA, joined by some of the colleagues who have used and contributed to the development of the database over the years. D.J.B., N.K., E.L. and H.C.B. conceived the concept of the manuscript. D.J.B. and E.L. wrote a first draft of the manuscript and contributed significantly to the submitted manuscript. H.C.B. led on the subsequent development and writing of the submitted manuscript. B.M.S., N.D.B., P.V., M.D., M.M., M.W., J.L.S. and T.M.B. developed the content further and contributed to writing the submitted manuscript.

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Correspondence to Heather C. Bingham.

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Competing interests

H.C.B., N.K., M.D., J.L.S., D.J.B., N.D.B. and E.L. are employed by UNEP-WCMC. T.M.B. is employed by IUCN. H.C.B., N.K., M.D., J.L.S. and E.L. work directly on the management of the WDPA.

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Decisions of the CBD Conference of the Parties that reference the WDPA or Protected Planet

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Bingham, H.C., Juffe Bignoli, D., Lewis, E. et al. Sixty years of tracking conservation progress using the World Database on Protected Areas. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 737–743 (2019).

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