What do we mean by protected and how much is already protected?

We use the term “protected areas” as defined by International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Commission on Protected Area’s 2008 guidelines. Connectivity between protected areas can be provided by a variety of conservation mechanisms that will vary according to local conditions and the needs of particular species. The idea is to ensure that entire systems function properly.

IUCN defines a protected area as:

“A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”

IUCN categorizes protected areas by management objective and has identified six distinct categories of protected areas.  See examples and descriptions for each category >

Ia Strict Nature Reserve
Ib Wilderness Area
II National Park
III Natural Monument or Feature
IV Habitat/Species Management Area
V Protected Landscape/ Seascape
VI Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

The UN reports that only about 14% of the planet’s terrestrial area is currently protected (though it is also true that many existing protected areas lack sufficient funding to be adequately managed). But this statistic does not include Antarctica (10% of the planet’s land) which is very wild, nor does it include large areas under indigenous conservation management, and many privately protected areas. As a result, the current percentage of the earth under formal protection is likely significantly higher than 14% though the amount protected is clearly less than is necessary.

Different scientists and studies use different criteria to make their determination, but the good news is that the amount of the planet protected is not the same as the amount that is still largely intact, which is substantially greater. For example, a 2003 study by Conservation International indicated that 39-44% of the planet remained mostly wild, with very low human population densities. The challenge is to formally protect these areas and to restore others. And more,  in 2016 a scientific assessment of distinct “ecoregions” around the world confirm that protecting half of nature is indeed attainable in most of these valuable ecosystems. Already, 16% of the Earth’s ecoregions are half protected, with most of this in Tropical and Subtropical Moist Forest, and Tundra. Another 22% are well within reach of this crucial target.