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Dynamics in the global protected-area estate since 2004

Nations of the world have committed to a number of goals and targets to address the global
environmental challenges humanity faces. Protected areas have for centuries been a key strategy in
conservation and play a major role in addressing current challenges. The most important tool used
to track progress on protected area commitments is the World Database on Protected Areas
(WDPA). Periodic assessments of the world’s protected area estate show steady growth over the last
two decades. However, the current method, which uses the latest version of the WDPA, does not
show the true dynamic nature of protected areas over time, nor does it provide information on sites
removed from the WDPA. In reality, this methodology can only show growth or remain stable. This
paper presents a novel approach to assess protected area change over time using twelve temporally
distinct versions of the WDPA that quantify area added, and removed, from the WDPA annually from
2004 to 2016. Results show that both the narrative of continual protected area growth and the
counter-narrative of protected area removal are overly simplistic. The former because growth has
been almost entirely marine and the latter because we demonstrate that some areas removed are
re-protected in later years. Analysis indicates that, on average, 2.5 million km2 is added to the
WDPA annually and 1.1 million km2 is removed. Reasons for the inclusion and removal of protected
areas in the WDPA database are explored and discussed. To meet the 17% land coverage component
of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 by 2020, which stands at 14.7% in 2016, the world will either need to
reduce the rate of protected area removal or increase the rate of protected area designation and
addition to the WDPA.